Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Did Blue Virginia Come From?



Back in 2008, Bill Frey and I looked into what was happening in Virginia demographically and geographically. It was not too hard to see blue Virginia coming. 

Almost 10 years later, these changes have only intensified. An excellent piece from Crystal Ball's Geoffrey Skelley lays out some compelling data. Virginia can usefully be divided into four segments: the Northern Virginia metro area, the Hampton Roads metro area, the Richmond metro area and the rest of Virgina (about 30 percent of the population). Skelley shows that the partisan lean (that is, how Democratic or Republican these areas were relative to the nation as a whole) of these areas has changed dramatically over time. 

As the first chart above shows, while all three of Virginia's metros have become steadily more Democratic-leaning, especially the Northern Virginia area, the rest of Virginia has headed in exactly the opposite direction. But then, as the second chart shows, the share of the population in the rest of Virginia has been steadily declining since 1968 while the population share of the Northern Virginia area has steadily grown.

Put all this together and today's Virginia is what you get. 

At the end of the article, Skelley provides a useful summary of some of the underlying reasons why Virginia's metros are moving in the direction they are:
This article has presented voting data showing the significant shifts in Virginia’s voting behavior and its relative partisan lean over the 1968-2016 period. But it hasn’t exactly explained why this has happened. The answer to that question is partly reflective of the same forces that have changed politics throughout the country. For instance, as Northern Virginia grew rapidly, it attracted large numbers of highly-educated workers to serve in industries related to government, particularly federal contracting. College-educated voters have trended toward the Democratic Party overall, including white college grads. Based on the Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates, Virginia ranks sixth among the 50 states in its percentage of the population 25 years or older that has at least a bachelor’s degree.
Virginia has also become more diverse in many ways. It’s become more racially and ethnically varied since the 1970 census. Race and education are now the two strongest indicators of voting preference, so the fact that Virginia’s population has moved from being 19% nonwhite in 1970 to about 37% nonwhite today is surely a part of the story as well. The fastest-growing localities in the state, such as Loudoun and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, have become dramatically more diverse since 1970. Loudoun was 13% nonwhite in 1970; today, it is 10 times bigger in overall population and is about 41% nonwhite. Prince William has seen even more dramatic changes: It was about 6% nonwhite in 1970; today, its population is roughly five times bigger (if you subtract Manassas and Manassas Park from its 1970 totals; they’re now independent cities) and the county is 54% nonwhite. The physical origins of Virginia’s population are now more diverse as well. In 1970, 63% of the state’s population had been born in the state; in 2010, that figure had fallen to just below 50%.
We should expect these trends to continue.

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