Virginia’s Purple Politics

Virginia elections and geography made for an energetic Post-Election Conference on November 5, which was organized by the NOVA Institute of Public Service. This conference discussed the results of Virginia’s November 3 election, and its implications for 2016. Below is my PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the geopolitical outcomes of this election with maps and graphics.

PostElectionNov5-2015 (click on this link for slides)

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Explaining election results as Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Charniele Herring look on.

Both Virginia Republicans and Democrats can claim victories in this election, including:

  • Republicans kept control of the Virginia Senate by 1 seat.
  • Democrats gained 2 seats and lost 1 seat (all in Northern Virginia), giving them 34 seats and ending Republicans “veto-proof” majority in the House of Delegates.
  • Republicans held on to the Richmond area’s Senate District 10–barely–which was the best chance for a Democratic pickup.
  • Democratic State Senator John Edwards (District 21) won re-election by more than 8  percentage points in southwestern Virginia (a conservative stronghold) despite Republicans raising more money.
  • Republican State Senator Dick Black (District 13) won re-election to his Northern Virginia seat in the closest race for any Senate incumbent. Democrats note that he won by only 4.8% (52.2% to 47.5%) compared to 14.2% in 2011.

A record $43 million was spent by both political parties on Virginia Senate elections. However, all this money did not motivate most Virginians to vote. Voter turnout was only 29% of all registered voters, meaning that only 1.5 million out 5.2 million Virginians voted for candidates that will determine Virginia law. Public indifference to elections is often blamed on gerrymandered districts, whose contorted geographic shapes fail to create a sense of community but succeed in protecting incumbents.

A purple Virginia sums up the electoral geography. Republicans are favored in most local elections, but Democrats have won all statewide offices. Urban growth in Northern Virginia favors Democrats, but Republicans are more consistent and passionate voters. The 2016 Presidential election in Virginia should be interesting.

David B. Miller, Geography & Geopolitics Instructor, NVCC-Alexandria & Annandale

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. Comments are welcome.

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.

Slide3

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.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

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.

Ebbin4

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.

Ebbin6

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.