Geography & Virginia Politics

State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull, currently the community outreach specialist for NOVA’s Annandale Campus, visited Instructor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class at NOVA Annandale on June 10 to talk about changes in their districts over time.

Both speakers discussed redistricting, which is done after every census so that voting districts are roughly equal in population, and “gerrymandering,” where the political party in power shapes districts to gain political advantage. Districts were last redrawn in 2011, when Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion, with Democrats a majority in the Virginia Senate. Districts were drawn to protect incumbent legislators and minimize the number of Democratic districts in the House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) talked about his serpentine-shaped State Senate District 37, which includes NOVA’s Annandale campus (map below). The 2011 redistricting stretched his Fairfax County district east to west, from inside the Beltway to the Loudoun County border, with a population of some 200,000 people.

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Senate district 37 before and after redistricting.

The map in the image below shows his district as conservative and Republican in the west (red areas), and more liberal and Democratic in the east (blue areas). Senator Marsden asked students to “define liberty” and many students were at a loss to put this common concept into words. He explained, “liberty means different things to different people.” His constituents differed in their concerns about liberty, ranging from guns and fox pens to Virginia’s minimum wage and the Sea of Japan – East Sea controversy in Virginia textbooks.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

 

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Hull represented District 38 from 1993 to 2010. A lifelong Falls Church area resident, Hull earned his associate degree in biology at NOVA before transferring to Virginia Tech. In the 1990s, Hull’s district stretched from Alexandria in the east to the beltway in the west and included all of the City of Falls Church. Hull described how District 38 lost Falls Church, became more compact, and changed in ethnic diversity, as the district’s population swelled to more than 80,000 people by 2010.

Both speakers reminded students that 2015 is an election year in Virginia, with all 100 delegates and 40 state senators up for election on November 3, 2015. They noted that too few people vote in primaries (see graph below), which presents a danger to democracy. Students were encouraged to be aware of local issues and vote in primaries as well as the November elections.

Only 29% of all voters take part in General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, shrinking to 7.8% for the 2015 primaries.

Just 29% of Virginians voted in the 2011 General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, but only 7.8% voted in the 2015 primaries.

Senator Ebbin Visits NOVA Alexandria

State Senator Adam Ebbin came to the Alexandria campus to talk to Professor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class on Thursday, March 19. Senator Ebbin represents the 30th district (parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax) as a Democratic member of the Virginia Senate. His district borders the Potomac River from National Airport to Mount Vernon and includes part of NOVA’s Alexandria campus. He spoke to students about gerrymandering, the Virginia Senate, and his bills in the recent legislative session.

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Senator Ebbin discussing his district.

Ebbin explained that gerrymandering is the drawing of voting district boundaries in awkward shapes to make the districts safe for the party in power. A senator can choose voters rather than voters electing a senator.

In 2011, when the districts were drawn, Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion, Virginia House of Delegates, and the Virginia Senate. Therefore, the process of drawing new districts, or redistricting, tended to favor Republicans.

Virginia is a purple state with roughly equal populations of Republicans and Democrats, but the power of gerrymandering gives an edge to Senate Republicans, who hold 21 seats versus 19 seats for Democrats. Democratic voters are packed into Senator Ebbin’s elongated district, making districts to the south and west safer for Republicans. Each state senator represents about 200,000 people, and all 40 senators will be up for election in November 2015.

In 2011, District 30 changed in shape and size due to gerrymandering.

In 2011, District 30 changed in shape and size due to gerrymandering.

Senator Ebbin also discussed a number of his bills, including ones for cleaner energy, mass transit funding, and protections against discrimination in state employment. He highlighted his sponsorship of Senate Joint Resolution 337 commending Dr. Robert Templin for his 13 years of service as President of Northern Virginia Community College.

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Senator Ebbin taking questions from students studying political geography.

After his presentation, Senator Ebbin met with Dr. Jimmie McClellan, Dean of Liberal Arts, and Marcus Henderson, Community Outreach Specialist.

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

The Senate in 2015: What to Expect?

Yes, the media is all abuzz about the new Republican-dominated Congress that begins on January 6, 2015. Pundits still talk about Democrats losing 9 seats in the 2014 election results (my previous blog on Senate predictions was a bit off). How did this happen?

By winning 9 seats in 2014, Republicans start 2015 with a majority of 54 (out of 100) seats in the U.S. Senate.
By winning 9 seats in 2014, Republicans start 2015 with a majority of 54 (out of 100) seats in the U.S. Senate.

The Blame Obama Option 

For Republicans, blaming Obama seems to be the answer for everything. However, it should be noted that the only new Democratic Senator in the 2014 cycle, Gary Peters from Michigan, was the only Democratic candidate to embrace President Obama and invite him to campaign. Peters won in Michigan with 1.7 million votes, beating his Republican opponent by 410,000 votes—this in a state that reelected a Republican governor in 2014. Most Senate Democrats and candidates distanced themselves from the President, even though many were elected in the Obama-engineered Democratic wave of 2008. Lack of unity with the President and low voter turnout resulted in Republicans winning a Senate majority on Election Day by an average margin of some 72,000 votes per state–ranging from a winning margin of 6,000 votes in Alaska to 144,000 in Arkansas.

Senatorsobama

Was the GOP Wave Caused by Obamacare or by Senate Numbers?

GOP attacks on “job-killing Obamacare” will be used early and often in 2015, pointing to the will of the American people in voting Democrats out of the Senate in 2014. Of course, Republicans will fail to mention their loss of 6 Senate seats in 2006 and another 8 seats in 2008, when the will of the American people was unfavorable to Republicans. In reality, the Democratic wave of 2008 brought about the Republican wave of 2014. Change in party control of the Senate is part of a cycle as designed in the U.S. Constitution that requires a third of the Senate to be up for election every 2 years. I should add that Republicans gained 6 seats in their 2010 wave, and many will be vulnerable in 2016, because Republicans will be defending 24 seats versus 10 for Democrats. In 2014, Democrats defended 21 seats to the GOP’s 15.

ObamaScare

 

 

 

 

 

Democrats expected to lose some Senate seats, because the party in the White House usually loses Congressional seats in midterm elections. But especially low voter turnout (see graph below) likely hurt Democrats even more. Why the lower than average voter turnout for the 2014 midterms? Because Democrats were divided, failing to support President Obama and many Democratic policies. Republicans have always portrayed Obama and the Affordable Care Act as unpopular, and many Democrats took the bait by distancing themselves from the President. This confused message from Democratic candidates created a dispirited Democratic base, which contributed to low voter turnout.

GraphPres&Senate2014Presidential vote totals compared to 2014 Senate votes where Republicans won a Democratic seat.

Many Republicans believe they have a voter mandate to confront Obama, even though 2014 saw historically low voter participation. Senator McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader, will need to balance cooperation with confrontation. Cooperation with the White House is needed to show that Republicans can govern and not just be the “Party of No.” However, confrontation will likely be the natural order of things, with Republicans passing legislation that they know will be vetoed by the President.

The new Senate, with a 54-member Republican majority, convenes on January 6 in what Republicans are calling the “new American Congress.” It should be noted that no party “controls” the Senate unless it has a 60-member majority. Democrats can now reciprocate with tactics used by Senate Republicans since 2009. Undoubtedly, some Democrats gleefully look forward to “holds” or “filibusters” on Republican legislation.

Again, all this is just part of the natural Senate cycle.

 

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

The Fate of the U.S. Senate

The so-called Republican wave should swamp the Senate on Election Day, according to most pundits, including Virginia’s Larry Sabato. The Republican’s seem to be winning the sound-bite war, declaring that their purported war on women is “tiresome,” raising the minimum wage would “kill jobs,” and repealing Obamacare is “job one.”

I am not sure declaring women’s issues irrelevant, sacrificing minimum wage earners, and taking away health care will win the Senate. In this election cycle the GOP seems much like the self-congratulating braggart, who is being set up for a fall. Of course, polls show that Republicans are favored to take the Senate, but this reminds me of the Scottish referendum in September, where polls indicated that 52% wanted independence, but the actual vote revealed that only 45% wanted to break free from the United Kingdom. A poll can be wrong, slanted, or political propaganda, depending on who is paying for it.

Why Are So Many Senate Races So Close?

Money! The media like close elections because they sell political ads. The campaigns make elections look close, so money keeps coming in for their candidates. So with polls that are potentially erroneous and races that are engineered for excitement, how can we anticipate results? Well, there are some basic trends in Senate elections:

  1. Incumbents usually win—91% were reelected in 2012; 84% in 2010
  2. More Republican than Democratic incumbents have lost in recent election cycles—14 Republican and 4 Democratic incumbents have lost reelection since 2004.
  3. Lopsided Senates tend to see the biggest change in seats. For example, before the 2010 elections Democrats held 57 seats versus 41 for Republicans—and Democrats lost 6 seats. Currently Democrats have 53 seats versus 45 for Republicans, and GOP chances of getting 6 seats are less likely.

Keeping in mind that most incumbents win reelection and that Democratic incumbents tend to lose less on average, I made the following map of predicted election results for November 4, 2014:

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Map After Election Day!

Looking at the map, it looks like Republicans will gain (+R) 6 seats, picking up seats currently held by Democrats in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana—although the results of the Louisiana race may have to wait until December 6, if none of the candidates get over 50% of the vote.

Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and Louisiana are expected to lose reelection. Republican Senator Pat Roberts seemed to take voters for granted until it was too late, and Independent Greg Orman should win the Senate seat in Kansas (+Ind).

Finally, Democrat Michelle Nunn looks to take a Senate seat from Republicans in Georgia (+D), but a runoff election scheduled for January 6 could leave control of the Senate in limbo until January 6.

The speed of election results is anyone’s guess, and if Democrat Mark Udall wins in Colorado, then Republicans will likely file a voter fraud suit because of the new mail in voting system. Assuming runoff elections in Georgia and Louisiana, Democrats should have 47 seats—or 49 if one includes the two Independents from Maine and Vermont. Republicans, with 48 seats, will need to win Louisiana and Georgia to get to 50 seats, then convince Greg Orman (Kansas) to caucus with them (and not the Democrats) to get to 51. The three Independents in the Senate will have real power at a time when most voters are unhappy with the two major political parties.

Senate control may not be known until the Georgia election on January 6. The fate of the Senate may take weeks to determine.

 

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

 

 

 

 

How Will Virginia Vote in 2014?

Okay, I just gave a test on political geography to one of my classes, and I decided to sit down and collect my thoughts on the election next Tuesday, November 4. After getting my students all hyped up about electoral geography, I am hoping some of that enthusiasm translates into a memorable blog. Well, here goes…

Virginia Geopolitical Predictions—The Senate

Virginia’s Senate seat will go to incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Surprise! Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign boils down to, “Governor Warner wouldn’t recognize Senator Warner,” but candidate Gillespie does not offer much substance—just tired old Republican rhetoric. Gillespie will lose by some 500,000 votes, but Virginians will probably see him run for governor in 2017. Geopolitically, Warner will carry most of the counties and cities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, with the exception of some rural counties, especially in the west and southwest. Virginia went mostly blue (map below) in 2008, when Warner beat former Governor James Gilmore for the U.S. Senate seat.

Democrat Mark Warner was elected to the Senate in 2008. The Republican candidate only got a handful of counties (red).

A mostly blue Virginia: Mark Warner won most cities and counties in 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Geopolitical Predictions—U.S. House Seats

All 11 of Virginia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, and most will return the (mostly Republican) incumbents. Yes, people are vastly unhappy with Congress, yet they seem to return their representatives.Virginia races that are interesting or competitive this year are in districts 2, 7, and 10 (see map below).

CompetitiveRaces

U.S. House Races in Virginia: Both Boring & Exciting

 

 

 

 

 

 

District 2. The geography of the 2nd District is delightfully complex, thanks to Republican-led gerrymandering efforts in 2011. The district includes Accomack and Northampton counties and the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News. Here, Democrat Suzanne Patrick is challenging Republican incumbent Scott Rigell. Normally the incumbent should win, but this district is competitive geographically. Rigell was elected in the Republican wave of 2010, but in 2012 the district gave Democrat Tim Kaine more votes than former Republican Senator George Allen. Rigell defended his seat in 2012 by spending $2.5 million—one of the most expensive 2012 House races in Virginia. The key to this district is Virginia Beach: The city split its vote in the 2013 gubernatorial contest between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Patrick’s military background could give her a boost on November 4, especially if turnout is high.

Redrawing the 3rd District will impact other districts.

Redrawing the 3rd District will impact other districts.

District 7. This district is not competitive, but it is exciting. David Brat’s upset primary win over Eric Cantor in June 2014 means this is an open seat—with a political newbie. The 7th District is safely Republican, based on the boundaries set in 2011 by Virginia’s Republican legislature. However, the boundaries for District 7 will change in 2015, because the neighboring 3rd District was declared unconstitutional in 2014. Looking at the map at left, changes to the 3rd District will likely give surrounding districts a greater minority population. Assuming he wins election, Representative Brat will have the least seniority in the Republican delegation, and his district could see the greatest change in boundaries, making it more competitive.

District 10. This is by far the most competitive Congressional district in Virginia. This is an open seat due to Republican Frank Wolf’s retirement. The candidates are Republican Barbara Comstock and Democrat John Foust. The district includes Fairfax, Frederick, and Loudoun counties, as well as the cities of Manassas and Winchester.

Delegate Barbara Comstock has represented District 34 in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2010. About two thirds of her district is in Fairfax, with the rest in eastern Loudoun County. Comstock won her last election with only 50% of the vote, versus 49% for her Democratic opponent. Also, Comstock has drawn fire from tea party activists, which could limit conservative support.

John Foust won his last election to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisions with 60% of the vote. Loudoun and Fairfax counties are key to this race, and Democrats have a voting edge in both counties. A recent Republican poll shows Comstock as winning big, but this seems to be a ploy to discourage Democratic voters from turning out. Other polls have been more competitive.

In the end, District 10 is the only one that I believe will change from Republican to Democrat on November 4. Based on the political geography of the 10th district, I think John Foust will win and the district map of Virginia will have one more Democratic district (map below). We will see on November 4.

Predictions2014

Will Democrats gain a House seat in Virginia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.