It’s Not Your Grandfather’s White Suburb Anymore

By Peter Galuszka

Virginia’s slow and steady color change from red to blue was underscored again in the Nov. 6 election with Barack Obama once again winning the Old Dominion.

As Republicans lick their wounds, they may consider just how reliable GOP bastions of the state are changing and how that very neatly tracks trends that smart growthers have identified and promoted. Old style suburbanites living on relatively large, single family tracts are being displaced by younger voters who may live in more clustered housing near public transit closer to cities.

For the past several decades, the GOP could depend on the former who may live in such predominately white, middle class areas as Loudoun, Prince William or Chesterfield Counties. Yet as housing patterns trend back towards cities and younger people shy away from 1950’s-style,  cul de sac housing in favor of more densely-populated living arrangements, a more moderate electorate is evolving.

This is the thesis of Stephen F. Farnsworth and Stephen P. Hanna, University of Mary Washington professors who write in a Sunday Washington Post Local Opinion piece.

“Republicans have historically relied upon sizable suburban victories — coupled with large majorities in the state’s rural areas — to win statewide. But the GOP margins in the suburbs are eroding,” the say.

Examples may be areas where Mitt Romney won but not really by that much. For instance, he took Stafford and Spotsylvania counties that are in the NOVA-Fredericksburg orbit. Obama, however, got 45 percent in Stafford and 43 percent Spotsylvania. Twelve years ago, Al Gore did much worse there, gaining roughly about seven or so percentage points less.

Even my home county of Chesterfield in suburban Richmond that was bulging with Romney-Ryan signs on lawns voted 45 percent for Obama. Henrico went 55 percent for Obama.

The common denominator for all of these counties is that they were once considered refuge for upwardly-mobile whites who wanted more land and schools that did not have as many African-American children or the tensions of court-ordered integration. Escaping from crime was another motivator.

Such older whites “are followed by younger migrants who are less likely to be able to afford a single-family home on an acre or more. Many do not even want such a spread. These later arrivals manly want to live closer to work and are younger, more ethnically diverse and more Democratic in their partisan loyalties,” write Farnsworth and Hanna.

There a hidden a delicious irony about all of this. As Bacon’s Rebellion readers know, one world view of the blog is that old-fashioned suburban living settlement patterns are wasteful and inefficient. Regarding Richmond, this view supports the entire “RVA” shtick that the “Creative Class” is relocating or not leaving more urban areas as they ride bikes, write software and go to art museums.

Supporters of this view, however, tend to be reliably Republican although they might not necessarily support hard right GOP social issues, such as fighting  abortion and forcing women seeking abortion undergo embarrassing trans-vaginal exams. The issue is entirely a non-starter with the “Creative Class.”

The GOP needs to reset their thinking. Also, backers of this “Creative Class” fad, who include members of Richmond’s entrenched and hard-right elite, need to somehow square such contradictions with what they are preaching.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter anyway because there’s not much they can do to alter the state’s color change.

One Response to It’s Not Your Grandfather’s White Suburb Anymore

  1. Very excellent piece – Peter! thank you.

    Spotsylania/Stafford have not physically moved to NoVa. They ARE part of the NoVa region PRIMARILY because they live in the counties and work in NoVa.

    Neither county could be fairly characterized as leading-edge “smart growth” for the young, minorities, or Women – either.

    The two counties are primarily sprawl, tradition cul-de-sac subdivisions.

    Ok if you are with me so far on the facts – then my burning question is why are the two counties trending towards purple/blue?

    We do have a significant ridership of VRE – a significant percentage of the 20,000 total daily riders – and it is a subsidized government-run operation. The daily per rider subsidies far exceed the per rider fairbox.

    but I digress.. what”s causing the trending to purple/blue?

    Well.. the dirty little secret that Obama’s team knew that the GOP apparently did not is that a very significant portion of NEW commuters buying homes in the Fredericksburg Area are, in fact, minorities and though Romney won many/most of the precincts, the minority population turned out in droves. Many of them are….that’s right, government workers (the same as their fellow GOP neighbors).

    What might be interesting would be to poll commuters from the Fredericksburg Region with respect to their political leanings.

    While hard to believe – the reality is that many GOP-voting folks in the Fredericksburg area are – government employees or govt contractor employees.

    so they work for that big bad nasty central government that caters to “takers” and the vote with the party that would savage entitlements but not DOD or other National Defense spending.

    BINGO! break that poll down into who works for DOD and how they vote – and I’m betting that’s where the heart of the GOP is in the bedroom communities of Stafford and Spotsylvania.

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