Election outrage in Virginia


Though I no longer reside there, the happenings in Virginia still attract my attention, given that I spent the majority of my life there, including much of my adult life. With this in mind, I’ve been following, off and on, the Democrat outrage over various GOP comments surrounding this fall’s gubernatorial election. Much of this revolves around the GOP assertion that the DC “Beltway” counties in Virginia do not accurately represent the “real” political leanings in Virginia, and the Democrats’ assertions to the contrary. [1] While I’m not going to provide my own leanings on the gubernatorial race (actually, I don’t yet know much about the candidates), I would like to share a little context for these dueling statements.

First and foremost, it is significant that Virginia (finally) went Democratic in the 2008 Presidential election; for several election cycles prior to last year, Virginia was reliably Republican (though not overwhelmingly so). [2] The shift in voting statistics during the last election cycle was also not particularly dramatic, but it was certainly noticeable. [3] Using these statistics, and a map of Virginia Congressional districts, [4] one can perform a relatively quick analysis of the results WRT the impact that various locales around the state had on the overall election results.

As indicated on the map, there are a total of 11 Congressional districts in the state, four of them (Districts 2,3, 8, and 11) containing the major population centers of the state; Districts 2 and 3 encompass Hampton Roads, while Districts 8 and 11 encompass the various suburbs surrounding Washington D.C. These latter districts are the focus of the comments currently circulating WRT “real” vs “Beltway” Virginians. It is worth noting that these four districts, while comprising only 36.4% of the state’s 7,078,515 inhabitants [5], comprise only 6.05% of the state’s overall area. [6]

Based on statistics available from the Virginia State Board of Elections, most districts were slightly Democratic-leaning in the last election, though again, not necessarily overwhelmingly so. Districts 3 and 8, however, would naturally be of interest to the Democrats, as both voted heavily in favor of the Democratic candidates. [7] The results for the remaining districts are generally more evenly split, i.e. low 50s to high 40s, percentage-wise. The net result, of course, is that the state was moderately Demcratic-leaning in the last election, but not spectacularly so. Given that the locations identified by the GOP and Democratic commentators represent a minority of the state’s population (and certainly its area), it would be fair to argue that, at the very least, these locations are not representative of the whole of the state in terms of the population’s hopes and fears.

It is also worth noting that many of the suburban DC locations in northern Virginia are relatively recent population centers. Fairfax county, for example, is now the most populous county in the state, [8] but the vast majority of its growth has taken place in the last few decades. [9] Virginia itself, by contrast, has been inhabited by European colonists for over 300 years, since the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Given that much of the explosion in the population of northern Virginia coincides with the timeline of this century’s massive expansion of the Federal government does lend some credibility to the assertion that these ‘Beltway Virginians” are less tied to the inclinations of the state itself, and more so to the politicized climate of the nation’s capital. Of course, this is far from conclusive, and I will leave it to dedicated statistical analysts to determine if there is a causal link here.

The point behind all of this is that alluding to a difference of perspective between the various regions within the state is probably not so unreasonably divisive an observation. It is, in fact, quite true that people in the identified regions did see things quite differently than the rest of the state. Whether or not this constitutes a difference between “real” and non-real Virginians, of course, is a matter of perspective, but the Democrats are also not entirely altruistic in their concerns, either. Indeed, they stand to benefit heavily from the regions they are defending, so they are not unbiased observers in this debate. While I’m not sure that the GOP comments are entirely accurate, it does appear that they are not without merit, either.


[1]: CNN article, 03 April 2009, and CNN article, 07 April 2009.

[2]: Virginia State Board of Elections (SBoE) website statistics. See results for 2004, 2000, and 1996.

[3]: Ibid, official results for the 2008 election.

[4]: Map of current U.S. Congressional districts in Virginia, available here. Note: detailed maps are only available as PDFs.

[5]: U.S. Census Bureau website statistics. Four districts @ ~643,000 = 2,573,998; this is roughly 36.4% of the state’s total population of 7,078,515.

[6]: Ibid. The total area of these four districts is 2,589.87 sq. mi., which is roughly 6.05% of the state’s overall area of 42,774.2 sq. mi.

[7]: Virginia SBoE statistics, available here, broken down by Congressional district. Note that the results for District 3 were 76% in favor of Obama-Biden and 24% in favor of McCain-Palin (with almost no votes for third party candidates); the results for District 8 were 69% in favor of Obama-Biden and 30% in favor of McCain-Palin (again, with negligible votes for third party candidates).

[8]: U.S. Census Bureau website statistics, 2000 Census data.

[9]: U.S. Census Bureau historical data, 1900 thru 1990.


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