Maps of Virginia Elections

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

To follow up the series on Virginia, I’ve posted a few recent presidential elections in the state (courtesy of the New York Times). Each map comes with some brief analysis.

Link to map of 2008 presidential election in Virginia

Capitalizing on a decade of Democratic movement, Senator Barack Obama becomes the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964. The Senator performs best in eastern Virginia, especially the fast-growing northern Virginia metropolis. Western Virginia is not as enamored; parts of it even vote more Republican.


Link to map of 2004 presidential election in Virginia

Nobody pays attention to Virginia in 2004, and for good reason: incumbent George W. Bush cruises along to a comfortable victory. Amid all the hoopla in Ohio, Republicans fail to notice a disquieting trend. Fairfax County, the populous heart of Northern Virginia, goes blue in the first time for decades.


Link to map of 2000 presidential election in Virginia

Governor George W. Bush sails to an 8% victory. He artfully weaves together a classic Republican coalition: wealthy suburbs combined with Republican-trending rural Virginia.


Link to map of 1996 presidential election in Virginia

Expecting to win the state, incumbent Bill Clinton is surprised to see Virginia slip from his grasp. He does better than in 1992 – performing well amongst Democratic constituencies in the Appalachian west, the black southeast, and the rich inner-core suburbs of Northern Virginia. But it’s not enough: a strong Republican vote in Richmond’s suburbs denies Mr. Clinton his victory.


Link to map of 1992 presidential election in Virginia

Another presidential election, another Republican victory in Virginia powered by suburbs and small towns. Yet Governor Bill Clinton does relatively well. Compared to the 20.5% beating George H.W. Bush gave to Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis in 1988, a 4.4% loss ain’t nothing.




Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Conclusions

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia, which aims to offer some concluding thoughts. The previous parts can be found starting here.


As a state, Virginia’s population has always been located in three metropolitan areas: the Northern Virginia suburbs south of Washington D.C., Richmond and its suburbs, and the communities surrounding Hampton Roads. Together these three places compose more than half of Virginia’s electorate:

Link to map of Virginia's county votes

In all three metropolitan areas, Democrats have been improving their margins. Virginia’s suburbs, expansive and traditionally Republican, have shifted leftwards with startling quickness. This movement has been most apparent in the largest of its suburbs, rich and diverse Northern Virginia. The addition of NoVa to Virginia’s heavily Democratic, heavily black cities has given the Democratic Party a coalition that has won a number of recent elections.

Not everything has gone badly for the Republican Party. They have captured a formerly loyal Democratic constituency – the Appalachian west, which voted Democratic based on economic appeals. Moreover, they still dominate the rural whites who in bygone days voted Democratic:

Link to Virginia voting shifts 

Thus, Virginia today is a state in change, like most states. Parts of it are shifting left and parts of it are shifting right; in aggregate, the effect has been to change it from a solidly Republican to swing state. Undoubtedly, other states will and are moving in the opposite direction.

Colorado, the next state in this series, is probably not one of those Republican-shifting states.




Analyzing Swing States: Virginia, Part 5

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click to map links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

This is the fifth part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Virginia. It focuses on the traditional Democratic base and its decline. The last part can be found here.

In the days of the Solid South, Democrats worried more about primary elections than Republican challengers. The party, under the sway of the Byrd machine, dominated almost every part of the state – as it did throughout the South.

Civil rights and suburban growth broke the back of this coalition. In 1952 Virginia voted for Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower. By the 1970s Virginia had elected its first Republican governor, senator, and attorney general in nearly a century.

Democrats were left with strength in two reliable regions – the southeast and the western panhandle. These places constituted the traditional Democratic base, which Democrats relied on for a number of decades.

The 1996 presidential election provides an excellent illustration of this base:

Link to 1996 presidential election map

With his rare ability to command support among both poor Appalachian whites and poor Southern blacks, Mr. Clinton performed powerfully with the traditional Democratic coalition. As the map indicates, the incumbent president dominated the southeast, while winning a number of counties in the panhandle. It is an illustration of the traditional base at a strong point.

Clinton also lost Virginia by two percentage points. This indicates something else: it is actually very difficult to win the state with the traditional Democratic base. There are just not enough Appalachian whites and blacks (20% of the population) in Virginia. Take mostly black, heavily Democratic Richmond. In 2008 a little more than 90,000 votes were cast in the city. A respectable number – but barely more than half the 162,088 votes cast in neighboring, suburban Chesterfield County.

Richmond also constitutes an important part of the Virginia’s Democratic-voting southeast – the first prong of the classical Democratic coalition. Democratic strength in this region can be explained through demographics; the region is home to much of the state’s black population:

Map of Virginia's black population

Black voters, grateful for its passage of Civil Rights, remain a vital constituency of the Democratic coalition. They constitute a stable block of voters  for a Democratic candidate to build upon.

Geographically, Democrats usually win a few rural, majority-black counties in the southeast. In addition, black votes give Democrats sizable margins coming out of Richmond and four Hampton Roads cities – Norfolk (the largest), Portsmouth, Hampton, and Newport News. In 2008 Senator Barack Obama’s vote ranged from 64% (Newport News) to 79% (Richmond) in each of these cities.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the second prong of their traditional base – the Appalachian panhandle – is quickly moving away from them. This area is fairly rural and somewhat poor; as the map above indicates, its population is fairly homogeneously white. Until recently, Democrats could rely on panhandle votes even in the event of a double-digit loss. Its residents voted Democratic based off a combination of economic interests and tradition.

As the party becomes more metropolitan-based and liberal, however, the panhandle has been drifting away. The election of President Barack Obama, an ill-fit with Appalachian America, has accelerated the rightward movement. In 2009, Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds lost the panhandle by a landslide.

Map of Mr. Deeds's loss (county lean)

Even in the days in which the panhandle voted loyally Democratic, the base – as has been noted before – was insufficient for statewide victory. Democrats needed to add another prong to their coalition. Mr. Clinton attempted to do so by reviving support amongst the rural whites who’d long ago abandoned the Democratic Party; he mostly failed in his endeavor. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter did much better with rural whites but much worse with their suburban counterparts; Mr. Carter also barely lost Virginia.

Statewide Democratic candidates, on the other hand, have been able to win the state through a combination of the traditional base and a respectable suburban showing. Indeed, no Democratic presidential, senatorial, or gubernatorial candidate has won Virginia, for at least two decades, while losing suburban Fairfax County.

In recent years Democrats have traded the Appalachian panhandle for these NoVa suburbs. This switch has, in the aggregate, been to their benefit. The old Democratic base was rarely enough to win Virginia. With the addition of NoVa, Democrats have won three out of four past statewide elections. Virginia has moved from a red state to a purple one.




How I Became a Democrat

It’s been more than a year since the 2008 presidential election, when Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain engaged in that great, quadrennial contest for votes.

Initially, this poster was not quite sure who to support. Mr. Obama seemed quite the exciting, inspiring candidate. On the other hand, like many Americans, I was concerned about his relative lack of experience. Mr. McCain, I knew, was an honorable, decent man who had served the country well. Throughout the summer I hesitated, leaning towards the side of Senator McCain.

I remained in this state of mind until the Republican National Convention. It was then, in the second or third day of watching the RNC, that I decided to support Mr. Obama. More fundamentally, it was then that I decided to become a member of the Democratic Party.

This was because the experience left my deeply, profoundly uncomfortable with the Republican Party as it is today. I felt that an individual like myself would not have been welcome in that convention. I felt like a card-carrying computer geek in a room full of football jocks.

The RNC was very big on characterizing America as a nation of small towns and the Wild West. I remember, for instance, that a number of delegates wore cowboy hats. Others liked to chant “Drill, baby drill!” or “USA! USA!” The politicians – Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson – were fiery, inflamed, and sometimes quite hateful. At one point, I concluded that the Democratic Party’s appeals to small town-folk were hopeless. Small towns were in the very DNA of the Republican Party. They were just naturally more genuine than anything Democrats could hope to be.

That emphasis on rugged individualism and the good ‘ole days appeals to a large segment of white suburban America, the base of the Republican Party (very few Americans actually live in small towns). It left me, however, quite uncomfortable. I like small towns, but I also like colleges and big cities. I prefer curling up with a good book to horseback riding or backpacking – as I found out this past week. And I’d vote for the intelligent nerd over the awesome-to-hang-out-with dude.

I left the convention having concluded that the Republican Party was just not for me. Until that time I had considered myself an independent, quite happy to vote for either a Republican or Democrat. Ever since that experience I have been a Democrat. The party just appeals more to a guy like me.




Maps of Pennsylvania Elections

A few maps of Pennsylvania’s presidential elections are linked below, for your enjoyment. (Unfortunately, I don't know how to post images on this site). Each map comes with some brief analysis. Note how in each succeeding election, Democratic margins in the Philadelphia metropolis increase, while their margins in the Pittsburgh corridor decrease.

Pennsylvania, 2008 presidential election.

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

 As the national tide increasingly turns in Senator Barack Obama’s favor, Senator John McCain mounts a quixotic attempt to win Pennsylvania. While Mr. McCain improves in the southeastern rustbelt, Democratic dominance in eastern Pennsylvania ensures a double-digit blue margin.


Pennsylvania, 2004 presidential election.

President George W. Bush mounts a determined attack on Pennsylvania, coming within 2.5% of Senator John Kerry. Mr. Bush does quite well in the traditionally Democratic Pittsburgh corridor and Republican strongholds throughout the “T.” But double-digit losses in Philadelphia’s suburbs (and a 400,000 vote deficit coming out of the city itself) prevent Mr. Bush from victory.


Pennslyvania, 2000 presidential election.

Without President Bubba holding the line, Republican margins in Pennsyltucky are much higher. Nevertheless, Al Gore closely carries Pennsylvania based on Democratic strongholds in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolises.


Pennsylvania, 1996 presidential election.

With incumbent Bill Clinton poised to win comfortably weeks before election day, Senator Bob Dole does not seriously contest Pennsylvania. Democrats improve in the east and weaken in the west, while Mr. Clinton sails to a comfortable victory.


Pennsylvania, 1992 presidential election

Governor Bill Clinton romps to a nine-point margin, following three straight Republican victories in the state. Mr. Clinton milks Democratic strength in the industrial southwest for everything it’s worth, winning 2-1 margins in a number of counties. More ominously for Republicans, President George H. W. Bush barely loses the Philadelphia suburbs – the first Republican to do so since Senator Barry Goldwater (and before him President William Taft, in 1912).

(Note: Credit goes to the NYT for these amazing images.)




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