The 2014 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) offered opportunities to meet scholars from all over the world and gain new geographic insights. I attended sessions on themes ranging from “Kurdish Geopolitics” to “Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age.”
On April 10, I presented a paper, “Visualizing Geopolitics: Virginia’s Elections,” in a session titled, “Cultural Geography of the American South.” Other papers in the session dealt with Georgia, Mississippi, and New Orleans. I started with the statement, “In 2008, Virginia voted for a Democrat (Barack Obama), breaking a Republican voting pattern that began in 1968.”
My AAG paper featured graphics done for the NOVA Institute for Public Service and its blog regarding the November 2013 elections in Virginia, in which Democratic candidates swept statewide offices for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General for the first time since 1989. Democrats currently hold all five statewide offices, including both U.S. Senate seats, which has not happened since 1968.
My presentation included a map (above) of Virginia, showing election results by city and county. At first glance, it looks like Mr. Cuccinelli should have won because most of Virginia is red, but a closer look reveals that Mr. McAuliffe captured 12 of Virginia’s most populous counties and cities—versus 5 for Mr. Cuccinelli. Virginia’s largest county, Fairfax, gave Mr. McAuliffe some 68,000 more votes than his rival. Democratic votes from cities and urban counties can overwhelm the relatively small number of Republican votes from sparsely populated regions. In western and southwestern Virginia, 11 counties stretching from Highland to Lee along the Virginia border gave Ken Cuccinelli a total of only 30,770 votes.
Terry McAuliffe campaigned throughout Virginia and was elected governor by accumulating votes from:
- urban areas—especially Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond
- university campuses (he visited all 23 community colleges)
- rural counties with high minority populations
For example, the southwestern Virginia county of Montgomery, home to Virginia Tech, gave Terry McAuliffe 10,689 votes. Rural Brunswick County in southern Virginia, which is 57% black, provided Mr. McAuliffe with 2,704 votes.
My paper’s conclusion? The Commonwealth of Virginia, once a dependable red state for Republicans, has become a purple state; one that is increasingly favorable for Democratic candidates. Some 50 attendees were at the session, and questions focused on the Senator Mark Warner’s 2014 reelection bid. I explained that geopolitical trends indicate Senator Warner’s should easily win because he is popular throughout the state — even in Republican strongholds like southwestern Virginia.
The 2014 AAG Annual Meeting was a great learning experience, and I would like to thank NOVA’s Professional Development Committee. Their grant awards program made this trip possible.