Friday, April 24, 2009

The Politics of the Four Virginias

The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech released an election brief entitled, The 2008 Presidential Race: A Geographic Analysis of the "Four Virginias." Although somewhat facile in their geo-political boundaries, the memo divides Virginia into four regions: Northern VA, Shenandoah (Southside/Southwest VA), Capital Region (Richmond area), and Hampton Roads. In each of these regions, despite similar turnout percentages, Obama made signifigant gains compared to Kerry in 2004. Obama, compared to Kerry, ran up huge numbers in Democratic strongholds and he cut significant margins in areas he lost.

Focusing soley on Northern Virginia, the authors also break this area into four sub-regions (Inner Suburbs, Mature Suburbs, Emerging Suburbs, and Exurbs). Similar to the state as a whole, Obama did exceptionally well in strong Democratic areas, and made huge gains, compared to Kerry in 2004, in traditionally Republican areas (Emerging Suburbs and Exurbs).

The brief concludes stating that, politically speaking, Northern Virginia has many similarities with New Jersey suburbs of New York, and the rest of Virginia has similarities with, interestingly, South Carolina. With regards to future elections, the authors conclude:
Despite the fact that Barack Obama made considerable gains across the entire commonwealth of Virginia and won the state handily, it is much too early to tell if the Democrats have built a lasting majority in the state. There are a lot of macro-factors that influenced the outcome of the 2008 presidential race, including the overwhelming desire for change. Regardless, the 2008 Virginia race will be viewed as a window into the 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
This report finds that Northern Virginia’s Emerging Suburbs and Exurbs will be a primary battleground in state and national elections long into the future.

Despite the insights gleened from this report, I am unsetteled with the emphasis given to Northern Virginia here. The reality, however, electorally speaking, is that NoVA is the most crucial voting bloc in the state given it's massive, and growing, population density, especially for Democratic state-wide campaigns. I understand that, completely, and to argue differently would be naive. But, studies like this one, unintentially, consign Southside and Southwest Virginia to second-class status. Given, the logic goes, the vote-rich areas in other regions, the huge land mass of rural Virginia (i.e., time and travel), the meme of rural Virginia's political conservatism (sigh), state-wide candidates then, generally, focus their efforts in NoVA and elsewhere. But, let's remember Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Tom Perriello and the victories they earned by focusing beyond these urban, vote-rich centers.

(h/t hokie_guru)


Hokie Guru said...

Some say that as NOVA goes, so will go Virginia... kind of like Chicago (and it's 'burbs) influence on Illinois... don't feel unsettled... NOVA is going to have even more influence... we have immigrants coming here every day.

Thanks for the Hat Tip.

Drew said...

Yes, As NOVA goes, so goes Virginia. You are absolutely correct, and I completely understand that. I just wish we Southsiders weren't considered second-class citizens in state-wide races. Focus on NOVA, Richmond, Hampton Roads, and then swing through Southside and Southwest Virginia when you get a chance. We want some love too!

Hokie Guru said...

I love Southwest Virginia... I'm going to the Spring football game... leaving at 8 PM :-)

Seriously, I don't think you have to worry about SW Virginia getting love... a Democrat still has to get in the 40's in SW Virginia to win... they can't get smashed down there and expect to win... they have to be honest... I think they also said that in that article.

Drew said...

very jealous that you are going to the spring game! Have twice the fun for me.

I re-skimmed the article and did not see any statement to which you allude. I wouldn't have been so unsettled if they had given us that kinda props. I understand the political reality, however.

A Faithful Reader said...

The quickest way to go from majority to minority is to write off any region. In 2008 the Dems brought their big names to Southside and the Southside responded. There is at least one US Representative who owes at least 750 extra votes to a perfect storm of big name candidates, and a campaign that did not quit. Here - so goes Charlottesville so goes the 5th does not always apply. All regions, every time is the way to success.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I agree with A Faithful Reader. Although not too many progressive Democratic candidates would carry the rural Southside/Southwest outright, it would be foolish to ignore the area completely.

For one thing, using the 2008 election as a model, one of the keys to Obama winning was that he was able to make significant inroads there. Maybe he didn't win, but he didn't lose by so much that it was damaging. A good strategy would always be to cut your losing margin by as much as possible even in areas that you couldn't possibly win.

The other point is that without some inroads in Southside/Southwest, it still remains difficult to build majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates and to keep them in the state Senate.

Also, without broad approval ratings across the state, it proves difficult to actually govern and get one's agenda through the legislature. Nothing leads to failure faster than ineffectiveness. So, without broad, statewide support, all our victories will be fleeting.

A truly smart, successful politician does not ignore any region. Did Mark Warner?

Drew said...

I agree with you AIAW and A Faithful Reader. As we have learned via Warner and, more locally, Perriello, when you campaign everywhere, you drastically increase the likelihood that you win. Warner and Perriello did not count any area out, and they were rewarded for their hard work.

But the current political reality, as evidenced and perpetuated in this study, says that NOVA, and secondarily Richmond and Hampton Roads, are where political candidates should spend the overwhelming amount of their time. It consigns us Southsiders to second class voters, however placated with infrequent visits. And those infrequent visits hit the same areas: Martinsville, Danville, Roanoke, Lynchburg, maybe South Boston. But many Southside counties (Franklin, Bedford, Campbell, Appomattox, Charlotte, Lunenberg, Brunswick, Halifax, Mecklenburg - to name just a few) are all neglected.

At least that is how I feel. I am sure that I am not alone here.

AIAW, I really like how you linked the campaigning to building majorities to strength of governance. Excellent point.