Virginia’s New Political Landscape

2020 presidential election map. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

by James A. Bacon

So, where do yesterday’s elections leave us?

We don’t know who won the presidential election, and we probably won’t know for days, if not weeks. Still, we can draw some meaningful conclusions.

Virginia remains a solid blue state. The Democrats’ political dominance has jelled. With 98.44% of votes reported, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the presidential election by 53.7% to 44.5% — a nine-point margin. Democratic Senator Mark Warner trounced his Republican opponent Daniel Gade by an eleven-point margin. And Democrats won, or were poised to win six of eleven House seats, with only the election between incumbent Abigail Spanberger and challenger Nick Freitas too lose to call.

Northern Virginia has transformed the demographic equation. Not only do a handful of Northern Virginia localities dominate Virginia’s electorate in the absolute number of voters, NoVa is lopsidedly blue. Biden’s margin of victory was 64.7% in Arlington County, 62.% in Alexandria, 41.9% in Fairfax County, 28.7% in Prince William County, and 24.7% in Loudoun County.

Democrats dominated big-metro suburbs. But there was more to the Democratic Party victory in the Old Dominion than Northern Virginia. Biden swept the most populous suburban jurisdictions. He captured a small majority of votes in Stafford County, traditional red territory. In Hampton Roads he dominated Virginia Beach by a 7.6% margin and Chesapeake by a 6.1% margin. In metro Richmond, Biden blew out Trump by 5.9% in Chesterfield and by an astonishing 27.8% in Henrico County.

Trump hatred as a factor. Have Republicans irretrievably lost Virginia’s suburbs? The conventional media wisdom is that the polarizing figure of Donald Trump alienated suburban women. I expect the in-depth, post-electoral analysis will support that conclusion. Gone are the days of the “angry white male.” Now we live in the era of the “angry white female.” Trump hatred was surely exacerbated in Northern Virginia by the relentless pounding by the Washington Post where, one is tempted to believe, senior editors imposed a quota of at least three explicitly anti-Trump articles on the front page each and every day. But female loathing of the president extended far beyond NoVa.

The polarization is bigger than Trump. If President Trump leaves the White House in January, Virginia will remain a deeply divided place. Republicans may constitute a permanent minority in the Old Dominion now, but they remain a large permanent minority. And I expect they feel more deeply alienated from the dominant cultural institutions and the political power structure than ever. Many working-class and middle-class voters see Trump as their tribune protecting them from the depredations of an increasingly assertive oligarchy. They regard the dominant left wing of the Democratic Party as a soft-totalitarian movement that is determined to refashion not only the political structure, not only the economic structure, but every facet of society — and crush anyone willing to stand in its way.

Culture wars never die. They don’t even fade away. In Washington, it appears that Republicans will retain a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, not to mention a six-to-three majority in the Supreme Court. They will have the institutional means to resist Democratic overreach if Biden ascends to the presidency (with Kamala Harris replacing him shortly thereafter if Biden’s encroaching senescence renders him unfit for office or if the Hunter Biden scandal finally engulfs him).

But Republicans have no such power centers in Virginia. Democrats control all three statewide offices, the state Senate, and the House of Delegates. Their ideological allies in the media totally dominate news coverage and frame the issues to the liberal/progressive advantage. Progressives are transforming K-12 education, and universities are reinventing itself as political indoctrination centers, especially in matters of race. Left-leaning nonprofits are flush with cash and aggressively pushing their agendas. And public-employee unions, once an impotent political force in the state, are expected to make significant gains, thus creating a new source of campaign boodle to maintain Democratic political dominance.

Virginia presidential election results are almost identical to 2016. Trump’s share of the vote stands at 44.5% at the present, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Four years ago, he won 44.8%. What has changed since then is that Virginia Democrats have strengthened their hold on the state’s levers of power.

Virginia is not California. Democrats have made California a one-party state. The Dems have virtually untrammeled power to impose their agenda on race, the environment, wealth redistribution and other critical issues of the day. For Republicans and conservatives, resistance has been futile. Virginia has not reached that point yet. Republicans and conservatives still have some fight left in them. Will they choose their battles wisely, or will they engage in pointless, futile gestures? That remains to be seen.

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27 responses to “Virginia’s New Political Landscape

  1. A few sleepless observations:

    -Biden didn’t actually win Spotsylvania — I’m seeing Trump at 69% on DDHQ’s site. Did you mean Caroline?

    -For all the talk of fedgov employees in Clarendon setting Virginia’s political agenda, Trump did 3% better in VA than in CO, a state that went blue at the same time and for much the same reason. You’d think NOVA would be ground zero for the suburban red->blue flip, but Biden’s improvement over the Clinton vote in 2016 was marginal, and a big part was the Gary Johnson->Biden train. What factors are at play here?

    -Spanberger lost VA-7 by something like 500 votes.

    -Good won VA-5 by a comfortable margin, the Biden-Webb signs lining my Cville street to the contrary.

    -For the second presidential election in a row, the only Trump signs in my family’s Fairfax Co. neighborhood were put up by our Persian neighbors.

    -My only political conversation with a stranger in the last month was with a gas station clerk on Monday evening — he implied both presidential candidates were child molesters and thus would vote for neither.

    • You’re right about Spotsylvania — shame on me!

      Error corrected.

      • The thing about Spotsylvania to also note is that we are a large bedroom community with more than half the county commuting to government jobs in NoVa. They are politically, fundamentally different than govternment workers who live in NoVa.

        • ‘Tis true. Kinda curious that Fauquier and Culpeper — filled with the same sort of folks IME — were 10 points bluer than Spotsylvania. More lib retirees running out the clock in the Blue Ridge foothills, mebbe?

  2. Let’s dispel the continuing wishful thinking and flat wrong assumptions that people don’t like Trump because of the way “orangeman” talks.

    Yes, he is an effing idiot to bully other people, call them names and in general act like a child with people he dislikes on Twitter so parents have to explain to kids why he is like that while they try to encourage their kids to not grow up like that.

    But it’s what he actually does that causes opposition and the feckless GOP stands by and says and does nothing while he does it:

    1. – has politicized the FDA and CDC – undermining the trust in vaccines
    2. – has politicized DHS and Immigration
    3. – has politicized the Justice Dept and the Intelligence agencies
    4. – has opposed health care for millions of Americans and lied about
    a better replacement.
    5. – has stoked racial division in the country, and gives support to militia
    and white supremacists
    6. – Does not get along with most of our allies – to our harm.
    7. – refuses to deal with Climate issues… even real impacts like sea level rise
    8. – he openly undermines elections as well as Mayors and Govenors.
    9.- Openly promotes lies and conspiracy theories

    these are not “derangement” issues. They are actual policy and leadership issues. His manner of speech reveals who he really is.

    He is unfit the govern the country – not because he talks “bad” but because he really is a menace to the health and well being of the country.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    One way to look at it goes like this. Make the blue team work for you. I don’t have to get my car inspected when the sticker expires. I have 3 more months to do so now. Tired of mowing grass? I might wait until the town manager sends me a nasty gram about the tall grass in my yard.

    • Or, live as Junger’s Anarch. Tempt fate each year by letting your emissions sticker lapse while at school, and then speed on up your interstate of choice to make it to an inspection station. I have never once failed.

  4. And let’s not forget that, with a choice of many female Democratic U.S. Senators, Biden picked one of two who want to impose a religious test on federal judges. Instead of sitting out the race, as some did, Virginia voted for religious bigotry.

    Some bigotry, especially anti-Catholic bigotry, is still OK in the Old Dominion.

  5. A good overview and analysis.

    My first vote, in 1972, was from Henrico County, so happy to now see those results (a much different place in 1972). Oh, JB, I did not live in the west end then, but closer to Lakeside.

    Most of the rest of my life was living and voting in MD.

    This cycle, while left out in BR’s analysis, was in NOVA’s City of Falls Church (population same as Nelson County), with 64.22% margin of victory for Biden (just missing beating Arlington), and a 4:1 victory margin for Congressman Don Beyer.

    So, its safe for me to now live again in VA, and all the bumper stickers about not crossing the Potomac to the “Peoples Republic of Maryland” seem to have all disappeared.

    https://results.elections.virginia.gov/vaelections/2020%20November%20General/Site/Locality/FALLS_CHURCH_CITY/Index.html

  6. I don’t know what to say except we live in a place where most everyone works for the government in one way shape or form. So that probably means more support for Dems. And support for the idea that gov’t should be the one making mandates and creating jobs. This is different scenario than my prior residences in NJ and briefly Louisiana (which I need the WordPress spell checker to help me spell out).

    Of course, NJ also did like idea of using the state-controlled utility monopolies to mandate new power plants and create jobs, but NJ seems to have fallen behind on off-shore wind. I gather this is due to NJ’s attempt to delegate the leadership to the cheaper bidder. Virginia commits to take charge ourselves, no matter what the cost.

    • They do work for the government – both do – but those who live in NoVa have a totally different political view than those that commute 3 hours a day to a bedroom community.

      I’m not trying to explain why – I’m just pointing out that NoVa govt workers vote left and exurban bedroom community commuters vote right – at least in Spotsylvania, Stafford, Culpeper, Faquier, etc.

      Frederickburg city votes blue but it does have some VRE commuters to NoVa.

    • Neither my daughter nor her husband, who live in NoVa, work for the government (at any level). They are both religious conservatives. They both voted for Biden. My son-in-law told me that this was the first time that he had ever voted Democratic.

      • Much of the NoVa economy is based 1st and 2nd tier Federal Govt. I call 2nd tier the direct contractors tothe govt but the 2nd tier sub-contract further. Not only the military but many other agencies headquarters.

        Private non-govt companies and institutions that are affected by the Federal Govt , laws, regulations, etc – also come to NoVa to be able to participate in Govt activities that affect the interests of their organizagtion.

        NoVa is near the center of the Federal Govt and anything and everything that the Feds “touch” brings those that will be “touched”.

  7. “Virginia is not California” like so duuuuh. Completely different histories, cultures and on and on. CA has one of the biggest economies in the world. The best public college system. It is the center of the global entertainment industry. Center of high tech. Farming. Is this some feeble attempt to argue that backward Ole Virgginiy is on the same level? The state that created Ronald Reagan? John Wayne? The Greatful Dead. Bacon! Get a grip!

    • Good point. History and culture is why Virginia will always remain an economic basket case dependent upon Federal spending.

      Anyone with any more ambition than to keep a chair warm in a government office somewhere for 8 hours a day wants out of here.

  8. So jump for joy, be gay and blithe,
    Or weep, my friend, with sorrow.
    What NoVa is today,
    The rest will be tomorrow.

  9. Californians had the good sense to restrict the worst tax and spend habits of its politicians in 1978. This year, Proposition 15 seeks to unravel the 1978 tax cap (called Proposition 13). My understanding is that the vote is still too close to call.

    https://www.latimes.com/projects/prop-15-property-taxes-impact-california-funding/

    California and Virginia are very different. The political system in Virginia is far, far more corrupt than in California. Conservatives might not like the decisions that Californians make for themselves but Californians make those decisions. Bad governors get recalled. Citizen initiated referenda are on almost every ballot. A two thirds vote had been required to raise taxes.

    Virginia is a political sewer run by and for the political class in Richmond.

    • The other big deal in California was rejection of making employees of Uber and Lyft and other similar companies treated as employees rather than independent contractors.

      Uber and allied spent a ton of money on that issue and now plan to take it nationwide.

      This is a clear example where California allows it’s citizens to vote on these issues and Virginia has no such intentions.

      I say California is better than Virginia when it comes to Democracy.

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