Analyzing Virginia’s 2009 Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing Virginia’s 2009 gubernatorial election. The second part can be found here.

(Note: All statistics are derived from

A normal observer might see the above map and naturally conclude that the Democratic candidate lost a landslide election. This is not always the case. In the 1968 presidential election, for instance, the state of New York looked like this:

Although it does not look like it, Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey won the state: 49.76% to 44.30%.

In November 2009, however, State Senator Creigh Deeds did in fact receive a thorough pummeling from Attorney General Bob McDonnell. An unappealing candidate running in a tough national climate, Mr. Deeds lost the race 41.25% to 58.61%.

Creigh Deeds only won two types of counties: his home district and Democratic strongholds. The former include the two blue counties along the state’s eastern border. The latter are populated by two Democratic constituencies: firstly, blacks in Virginia’s 3rd congressional district and secondly, wealthy suburbanites south of Washington (Virginia’s 8th congressional district).

Surprisingly (and disturbingly) Mr. Deeds lost Fairfax County, the key to recent Democratic success in Virginia. Rich, diverse, and heavily populated – Northern Virginia suburban voters were largely responsible for Democratic victories by Governor Tim Kaine, Senator Jim Webb and President Barack Obama.

Mr. McDonnell’s victory in Fairfax indicates one of two things. Either the Democratic Party has not entrenched itself in NoVa – or it is moving back to the Republicans. The latter possibility is highly worrisome and not simply confined to Virginia.

There is little more that the above map indicates – one cannot tell much from a map that just shows red counties. Differentiating the mass of red reveals more:

This image maps the results based on degree of support. It shows a substantial east-west divide hidden in the first map. Western Virginia voted Republican with far more intensity; eastern Virginia tended to be more moderate in its support of Mr. McDonnell.

Notice how intensely Republican the western panhandle is voting. These voters – poor, white, rural Appalachian folk – used to vote Democratic based on economic appeals. This trend subsisted even in fairly recent times: John Kerry won a couple counties; Senator Jim Webb took three. Former president Bill Clinton did even better (he lost the state by 1.96%):

Creigh Deeds, a moderate politician representing an Appalachian district, was supposed to appeal to the rural voters populating western Virginia; as the map makes evident, he failed to do so (outside his home districts). I suspect Barack Obama  may have something to do with this; his poor performance amongst Appalachian voters may be affecting Democratic candidates everywhere. Given the many Democratic politicians elected from Appalachia, this – if true – would definitely be a bad thing.

Finally, it is possible to map the results if Mr. Deeds had tied Mr. McDonnell:

This indicates the relative Democratic or Republican lean of each county – a county may vote Republican but still lean Democratic compared to the overall result, and vice versa. Massachusetts, for example, voted Republican in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide – but nobody would accuse it of being a Republican state. It went red, but relative to the rest of the nation was more Democratic.

The next section will compare this map with similar images derived from previous Democratic coalitions.


What Conventional Wisdom Doesn't Tell You

Several days after the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times produced a famous map of voting shifts since 2004.  Most politics buffs have seen this map; according to it, Appalachia “voted more Republican, while the rest of the nation shifted more Democratic.”

There is something else occurring here, however, which the map hides – and which almost nobody has perceived. This trend goes strongly, strongly against conventional wisdom.

To unearth this trend, let’s move back one election – to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 tie with former President George W. Bush. Here are the states he performed best relative to President Barack Obama. In all these, Mr. Gore did at least five percent better than Mr. Obama.

By and large, these states are what one would expect. All are located in the midst of Appalachia or the Deep South, regions rapidly trending Republican. All were fairly unenthused by Obama’s themes sounding change and hope.

Here are the remaining states in which Gore improved upon Obama:

This result is something quite different. Arizona – Senator John McCain’s home state – is not surprising, nor is Appalachian Kentucky.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, on the other hand – these constitute core Democratic strongholds. The vast majority of pundits would characterize them as becoming more Democratic, if anything at all. Indeed, there has been much ballyhoo about the Northeast’s Democratic shift – how Republicanism is dead in the region, how every single New England congressman is a Democrat, how Obama lost only a single county in New England.

That Al Gore performed more strongly than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey runs strongly against this hypothesis. Remember, too, that Obama won the popular vote by 7.3% while Gore did so by only 0.5%. If the two had ran evenly, this trend would have been far more pronounced. The state in which Obama improved least upon Gore, for instance, was not Alaska or Mississippi – but New York, where Gore did only 1.88% worse than Obama. The map below indicates this:

Much of the movement derives from the Republican candidates in 2000 and 2008. George Bush was a terrible fit for northeastern voters, with his lack of intellectual depth and cowboy persona. John McCain, on the other hand, was a man many northeasterners admired – he had a strong brand of independence and moderation, which the campaign tarnished but did not destroy. McCain was a person New England Republicans could feel comfortable voting for – and they did. (Fortunately for Democrats, there are not too many Republicans left in the Northeast.)

All in all, the Northeast’s relative movement right constitutes a very surprising trend. Few people would anticipate that Al Gore did better than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. It defies conventional wisdom and the common red-blue state dynamic, which holds that the northeast is permanently Democratic. Finally, given increasing political polarization, this relative trend the other way probably is a good thing for the country.




Analyzing Swing States: Pennsylvania, Conclusions

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Pennsylvania. The previous parts can be found here.


For many decades, Pennsylvania constituted model of Democratic strength based upon working-class votes. Today that is changing, especially in the southwest. For the moment, nevertheless, the swing state Pennsylvania remains Democratic-leaning. This is more because of an unusually strong Democratic machine than any natural liberalism in Pennsylvania.

In 2008 Democrats won Pennsylvania by double-digits, amassing a coalition based upon poor blacks in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, rich whites in the Philadelphia suburbs, and working-class votes outside Appalachia. It is a strange-looking combination, but it works.

Republicans built their strength upon small towns and exurban communities in “the T,” along with working-class votes in the southwest.

For decades, Republicans have been strengthening in western Pennsylvania, while weakening in eastern Pennsylvania. This map indicates these changes.

Although it doesn’t look like it, the 2008 Democratic candidate (who won by 10.32%) actually did better than the 1992 candidate (who won by 9.02%).

From all this, the best news for Democrats would be the blue shift Philadelphia’s suburbs have undergone. Republicans will take heart in the Appalachan southwest’s even stronger movement right.

I have previously opined that these changes benefit Democrats on the whole. Indeed, this whole series of posts has inclined toward a theory of continuing Democratic strength in Pennsylvania. I will conclude this chain of posts, therefore, with a map Republicans will like – the 2008 Pennsylvania results by municipality. This illustrates how President George W. Bush almost won Pennsylvania in 2004.



Analyzing Swing States: Pennsylvania, Part 5

This is the fifth part of an analysis of the swing state Pennsylvania. It focuses on the traditionally Republican region between the Democratic strongholds in the southeast and southwest. The last part can be found here.


Outside the Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia metropolis, Pennsylvania is a very different place. Political analysts often label this area "the T," while others call it Pennsyltucky.

Popular culture mythologizes Pennsyltucky as red-neck capital - a rural region dominated by NASCAR-loving red-necks. Politically, James Carville compared Pennsyltucky to Alabama without the blacks.

In fact, this stereotype is inaccurate on two accounts.

More below.

There's more...

Electoral Polarization

By: Inoljt,

In my previous post, I noted that almost all the counties President Barack Obama won have become more Democratic since 1992, while almost all the counties Senator John McCain won have become more Republican since 1992.

In fact, comparing maps of the 2008 presidential election and the county changes from 1992 indicates a striking correlation.

Here is the 2008 presidential election:

Here are the changes from the 1992 presidential election:

More below.

There's more...


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