Virginia’s 2013 Election: A Cartographic Perspective

The 2013 governor’s race is on in Virginia between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli. As a cartographer, I was curious as to the geopolitical landscape of Virginia. I sought to define the regions of Virginia that favored either Democrats or Republicans.

Population Geography of Virginia Voters
To appreciate a map of election results, a quick review of population density in Virginia would be helpful. Almost one third of Virginia’s 8.1 million people, about 2.6 million, are in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County alone has more than 1.1 million. Next in importance is the Hampton Roads region, dominated by the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News, with some 1.7 million people. Finally, the state capital, Richmond, is at the center of the Greater Richmond metropolitan area, a region holding about 1.3 million people. Outside of these three regions, the rest of Virginia is mostly sparsely populated, with only about 30% of the state’s population and voters. In general, urban areas tend to favor Democrats, and rural areas gravitate toward Republicans.

Population centers of Virginia
Population centers of Virginia

The 2005 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2005, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Tim Kaine (Democrat), ran against Virginia’s Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore (Republican). The map below shows the cities and counties won by Kaine in blue and the ones garnered by Kilgore in red.

Geographic Analysis of 2005 Election: The vote-rich counties and cities in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Greater Richmond were key to Tim Kaine’s victory. As the former mayor of Richmond, Kaine ran up the vote in Richmond, as well as in other Democratic urban strongholds, such as Alexandria, Arlington, and Norfolk. He also captured the traditionally Republican cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, along with the growing Northern Virginia suburban counties of Loudoun and Prince William. Kaine even did well in some rural counties of western Virginia.

Other 2005 Races: Despite Kaine’s victory, Republicans won the offices for lieutenant governor and attorney general. However, the attorney general’s race between Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell was very close, with McDonnell getting only 360 more votes than Deeds out of 1.9 million ballots.

The 2009 Virginia Governor’s Race
In 2009, the political geography of Virginia was decidedly redder, when Virginia’s Attorney General Bob McDonnell (Republican) ran against State Senator Creigh Deeds (Democrat) again—but this time for governor.


Geographic Analysis of 2009 Election: The mostly red Virginia in this election points to the geopolitical weaknesses of the Deeds’ campaign. Deeds was a rural Democrat from western Virginia, and he did not excite the Democratic urban base in Northern Virginia and elsewhere. This lack of excitement affected voter turnout, which was only 40.3% of the electorate—down from 44.9% in 2005. Also, McDonnell successfully campaigned as an effective and non-political attorney general throughout Virginia. McDonnell had represented Virginia Beach as a state senator, and his campaign gained votes in Virginia’s normally Democratic urban areas. Finally, many pundits noted that McDonnell won the fundraising race, with almost $24 million, compared to about $13 million for Deeds.

Other 2009 Races: It is important to note that Ken Cuccinelli, the current Republican candidate for governor, won his election for Virginia Attorney General in 2009. Cuccinelli prevailed in most counties, but he lost in Fairfax County, even though McDonnell won there. This is significant because Cuccinelli represented parts of Fairfax as a Virginia state senator.

The 2013 Race for Governor of Virginia: Setting the Stage
While far apart ideologically, Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli are close geographically, with both living in Northern Virginia. McAuliffe’s home is in Fairfax County and Cuccinelli resides in Prince William County. This guarantees that Northern Virginia will be a battleground for both campaigns.

The map below of Virginia sets the stage for the 2013 campaign by mapping the geopolitical landscape of Virginia, based on the seven statewide elections since 2005: two for Virginia governor (2005 and 2009); three for U.S. senator (2006, 2008, and 2012); and two presidential races (2008 and 2012).


In general, Northern Virginia has shown a recent tendency to support Democratic candidates, but in 2009 McDonnell captured everything, except for the Democratic strongholds of Arlington and Alexandria. The Hampton Roads region appears to tilt toward Democrats, except for Virginia Beach. The Richmond area possesses a Democratic city—but with many Republican suburbs. In any election strategy, Democrats will try to run up votes in Northern Virginia and take most of the Hampton Roads region, which would duplicate Kaine’s 2005 success. The Republican model would follow McDonnell’s 2009 triumph by holding most of rural Virginia, while targeting Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia. Republicans also need Virginia Beach in the Hampton Roads area, along with Henrico and Chesterfield counties in the Richmond region.

Who will win? It is way too early to say. The path to electoral victory seems to require more effort on the part of Republicans because recent statewide elections seem to favor Democrats—especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. However, the geopolitical landscape is just one factor in an election, others include the appeal of the candidates and the effectiveness of their respective campaigns. It is a long road to Election Day on November 5th, and both candidates have a lot of Virginia geography to cover.

Author: David Miller

Learned about the wonders of geography while working at National Geographic for some 25 years. Started teaching one class a semester at NOVA in the 1990s but became a dedicated instructor in 2010.

6 thoughts on “Virginia’s 2013 Election: A Cartographic Perspective”

  1. After reading your post, I think about the reasons why Bob McDonnell won the 2009 election in Virginia. First of all, money is not everything, but it is something. What I mean by that is the difference in fundraising amounts might affect their campaigns. According to your post, McDonnell raised 24 million dollars for his campaign, but Creigh Deeds, raised only 13 million dollar for his campaign. In my opinion, 11 million dollar difference makes a lot of difference in campaigns. Also, I agree with your comment about useful campaign by Bob McDonnell. According to your post, Northern Virginia, Greater Richmond, and Hampton Roads are the most populous. One third of Virginia’s population lives in these areas. Therefore, I can find out whoever gets the most votes in these three areas would have advantage to win the race. And from the map we can see McDonnell won the three areas that I mentioned above.
    Lastly, the most important counties for 2013 race would be Fairfax County which has 1,081,726 people according to Census 2010. Next, Prince William county, Loudoun county, Spotsylvania county and Chesapeake city would be main key counties or cities.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Fairfax does indeed have the most population and votes–but next is Virginia Beach city. Also, Chesterfield or Henrico counties, in the Greater Richmond area, have more votes than Spotsylvania County.

  3. I wish I could predict the future but I can’t. However, According to the last map of political landscape from 2005 to 2012, I see a lot of reds swiping through Virginia (but without taking into account the population). However, since McAuliffe’s home is in Fairfax county, he has a small upper hand than Cuccinelli because Fairfax has a higher population than Cuccinelli’s home, Prince William County. Regardless, I think the result still depends on how effective these guys campaign throughout the area. I think one major factor to consider though is young adults’ voting. Because it’s really hard to convince people who are 30 years old and older in my opinion. The reason being is that they already have their own mind set for a long time. People tend to believe that what they believe is what the world is supposed to be. I think it’s a rivalry kind of thing, but for young people, most of them don’t really pick sides yet. Even if they do, it’s easier to convince them than older people. So I think young voters voting outcome can have a great impact on this election. However, everything is always on the verge of changing. One wrong move or right move can turn this election around.So I can’t really say for sure, but based on the map, and a lot of issues that our government goes through lately, I’m gonna go ahead and say Republicans might pull this one off again.

  4. Good comments. I especially like the focus on younger voters. I think both candidates will visit many college campuses throughout Virginia to try and connect with young voters. Maybe they will even come here.

  5. Hi, fellow Virginia geographer here, in this case from Longwood University. Your map of election probabilities is really a nice one. I especially like the 3D population “balls”. Is that based on all state-wide elections? Did you filter out the blow-out elections? Have you maintained the locality data for Virginia elections coming forward?

    I’ve enjoyed all of your blog posts. We teach GIS, but, sadly, not using trained or skilled cartographers. I taught pen-and-ink back in the day and I have what I’d call rudimentary computer cartographic skill – with MapInfo rather than Arc products! Assembling and editing layers in ArcGIS I can do.

  6. Always great to receive comments on past maps. Hope all is well at Longwood! The spheres were done in Adobe Illustrator. I did not use Arc or any GIS software to build the maps. Regarding the electoral geography of Virginia, most of the rural areas go Republican and the urban areas go Democrat. It is really quite boring except for some suburban counties and districts. For example, Loudoun County over the last 10 years has gone from rural to heavily suburban. This is one reason why Barbara Comstock will likely lose her re-election bid. This will also challenge State Senator Black in 2019.

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