Red State, Blue State
Demographic Change and Presidential Politics in Virginia
July 25, 2012
Virginia is one of the most closely watched battleground states in the upcoming presidential election, with the commonwealth’s 13 electoral votes figuring prominently in the strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Until Barack Obama’s upset victory in Virginia four years ago, the commonwealth had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. Some political analysts believe demographic trends have finally, and perhaps permanently, tilted Virginia from a “red” state to a “blue” state.
This report briefly reviews Virginia’s political history, analyzes trends within key demographic groups over the past twenty years, and simulates the 2012 presidential election based on patterns seen in the last two presidential contests.
- While overall population growth for Virginia’s minorities has been significant, this has not yet led to corresponding increases in their proportion of eligible voters. Nevertheless, the non-Hispanic white share of the 2012 voting-eligible population is expected to drop by two percentage points from 2008.
- Northern Virginia’s electoral influence has been growing. The region accounted for just over a quarter of votes cast in the commonwealth in 2008 and may account for a third of all votes cast in 2012. Among Northern Virginians, support for Democrats has increased, with 61 percent voting for Obama by 2008.
- The Romney campaign would do well to follow a strategy focused on persuasion – increasing his margins among whites and making inroads among Virginia’s expanding populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. Obama will need to focus more on mobilization – making sure his core constituencies turn out to the polls, especially blacks, and those under the age of 30.