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.

The Map: 2015 Virginia Senate Races

It’s the beginning of October, and campaign signs are popping up like flowers in spring. This is the sprint season for political campaigns, especially in Virginia where all 40 members of the State Senate and 100 members of the House of Delegates are up for election on November 3, 2015.

Whereas Democrats need to win an impossible 19 seats from Republicans to take control of the House of Delegates, they need to capture only 1 seat in the Virginia Senate to take back control that they lost in 2014. Currently, Republicans hold 21 seats and Democrats 19, and Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam could break a 20-20 tie.

The Senate districts were drawn in 2011 to protect incumbent senators, and so the majority of districts are safe for sitting senators. Most races are boringly predictable. However, there are a few districts where retiring senators created open seats—and some electoral excitement. Also, a handful of districts are unpredictable due to demographic changes, especially in urbanized areas, that have taken place since the 2011 redistricting. These exciting Senate district contests are shown in yellow on the map, with notes showing campaign funding based on the latest reports.

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia's 40 Senate districts

Major contests exist in 7 of Virginia’s 40 Senate districts

District 6. Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis is an incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

Sen. Frank Wagner (left) and Gary McCollum

District 7. Republican Senator Frank Wagner represents an urbanized district favorable to Democrats that includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk and is almost a quarter African American. In September, Democratic challenger Gary McCollum suffered Republican attacks because he misstated his inactive Army Reserve status; then Senator Wagner generated outrage from the Virginia Black Caucus for the following quote at a fancy country club luncheon: “So it’s a very diverse district. I wish sometimes I represented this half, but I’m very, very happy to represent the folks I have.” Perhaps the candidate who makes no mistakes in October will win.
Prediction: Toss-up

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

Dan Gecker (left) and Glen Sturtevant

District 10. Republicans will likely lose this open seat because demographic changes and voting trends favor Democrats.  Dan Gecker’s campaign needs high Democratic voter turnout in the Richmond area to offset Republican votes for Glen Sturtevant in the rural western part of the district.
Prediction: Democratic pickup

District 13. Republican Senator Dick Black is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Republican hold

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

Kim Adkins (left) and Sen. Bill Stanley

District 20. Republican Bill Stanley defeated the Democratic incumbent in the 2011 election by some 600 votes, getting only 46.8% of the total in this borderline Republican district. Senator Stanley is state chairman for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, which will have both a positive and negative impact on voters. Democrat Kim Adkins, former Martinsville mayor, may have a chance at an upset if the Democratic areas in and around Martinsville, Danville, and South Boston enjoy higher than average voter turnout on Election Day.
Prediction: Toss-up

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

Sen. John Edwards (left) and Nancy Dye

District 21. The challenge to Democratic Senator John Edwards follows a Republican strategy of targeting Democrats in southwestern Virginia, where Republicans took Senate district 20 in 2011 and district 38 (west of district 21) in 2014. However, Senator Edwards should receive more than enough Democratic votes from the urban populations in Roanoke and Blacksburg to counter the rural Republican votes for opponent Nancy Dye east and west of Blacksburg.
Prediction: Democratic hold

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

Jeremy McPike (left) and Hal Parrish

District 29. Democrat Jeremy McPike should win this open seat due to demographics and voting patterns. Republican Hal Parrish, current Manassas mayor, is a strong candidate with lots of money, but the Democratic precincts of Dale City should overwhelm the rural and suburban Republican precincts in the west.
Prediction: Democratic hold

The Toss-ups in districts 7 and 20 should favor either the Republican or Democratic candidates by late October. The last time the Virginia Senate was elected in 2011, a Republican governor campaigned with his party’s candidates; but in 2015 a Democratic governor boosts Democrats (other active campaigners are Lt. Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring). In any case, it looks like only a few races will determine control of the Virginia Senate come November 3.

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, 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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Recent polls favor McAuliffe

A few polls have been popping up lately showing Mr. McAuliffe inching ahead of Attorney General Cuccinelli. This is one of them. Two points worth noting, I think: 1) this is, obviously, good news for McAuliffe, with a 45% to 38% lead that is beyond normal margins of error; and 2) Mr. McAuliffe is not near a majority of support.