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.