Death of Three Virginia Battleground Counties

Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties comprise Northern Virginia. The incredible expansion of the Federal government has disproportionately benefited this region more than anywhere in America.  As such, the typical suburban voters whose politics usually reflecting the ebb and flow of election outcomes are not consistent with the government-centric Northern Virginia suburbs.  The author of the linked piece pushes the debunked “demography is destiny” trope without mentioning the region’s massive Federal subsidy through the government expansion. The growing minority and educated white influx is reflective of the skilled government jobs, rather than more typical immigration patterns and pressures like in the Southwest or Florida. But regardless of the driver behind these moves, the results are the same — this is a solidly Democrat area in the most populous region in the state:

The affluent and diverse suburbs of northern Virginia swung decisively toward Obama in 2008, providing most of his margin of victory in a state that hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. Although Obama is not assured of another victory in the Commonwealth, Romney probably won’t win by rolling back Obama’s gains in the D.C. suburbs. Last cycle’s consummate swing region is likely to again vote decisively for Obama in 2012, and Romney will need to look elsewhere for big gains in Virginia.

Since 2000, the demographic composition of the region and the national Democratic coalition changed dramatically. According to the 2010 census, Prince William and Loudoun counties grew by 43 and 84 percent respectively, with minority groups representing a disproportionate share of new residents. Today, whites make up just 56 percent of residents in northern Virginia.

Over this period, Democrats accelerated big gains among college-educated white voters.In Fairfax County, Democrats gained ground in every election since 1980, with Kerry becoming the first Democrat to win since LBJ.

Year Dem % Year Dem %
2008
2004
2000
1996
60.12
53.25
47.49
46.58
1992
1988
1984
1980
41.58
38.28
36.83
30.76

In 2008, the region’s demographic changes—along with Obama’s big national gains among educated whites and minorities—produced a huge Democratic shift in northern Virginia. After voting for Kerry by 7 percentage points in 2004, Obama won Fairfax by 21 points in 2008. The two rapidly growing and increasingly diverse outer suburbs and exurbs swung even more dramatically. Prince William County voted for Bush by 7 points in 2004, but Obama won the new minority-majority county by 16 points in 2008. Altogether, Obama won northern Virginia by 22 points, providing statewide margin of victory. The rest of the state was a dead heat.

Northern Virginia only represented 27 percent of the electorate in 2008, and diminished African American turnout could combine with meaningful Romney gains elsewhere in the state to produce a GOP victory. In particular, Romney has opportunities in rural, white working-class areas in western Virginia and the less educated Tidewater region, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Obama did not perform particularly well in western Virginia and national polls indicate that Obama is probably vulnerable to additional losses.

National and state polls suggest that Obama’s “new coalition” of educated whites and minorities continues to offer 08’ levels of support to the President, and those voters represent an overwhelming share of the electorate in northern Virginia. So long as Romney struggles to make gains with educated whites, Northern Virginia won’t be a swing region in 2012, and Romney will need to look elsewhere to make up ground.

Unmentioned in this explosion in pro-Democrat voting blocks is the dramatic expansion of the Federal government by George W Bush and Barack Obama. A simple analysis of the percentage of Federal employees (i.e. people the rest of the nation subsidizes) in these counties would demonstrate a far more causal relationship between the changing populations and its voting trend towards the Democrats.

2 Comments

  1. jr terrier
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink | Reply

    republicans are also hurting themselves in these counties because of the sonogram/abortion bill they introduced. women in these counties find this a little too extreme even if they are pro-life. that bill probably also did in the VA Governor’s chances of becoming the VP nominee.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yes, the Romney campaign has been bedeviled by state parties for various reasons — usually their incompetence like in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately Virginia took advantage of their huge gains in the legislature and passed a wedge issue like the Sonogram requirement. That is typical for the GOP to sabotage its national chances to serve more narrow interests. But we’ll do what we can to overcome our own self-sabotaging. Keep fighting the good fight!

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] every discussion about the Battleground nature of Virginia, the region closest to Washington DC is always featured prominently.  That is because this is the part of the state that has changed […]

  2. […] Democrats and Obama have on Virginia’s most populous region. One of the best was a study on the voting trends of Fairfax County — Virginia’s most populous — demonstrating that since 1980 the Democrat % of vote […]

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