Arlington Republicans’ Dissatisfaction Myth: The Real Risk is Low Turnout


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    GOP stalwarts claim Arlington is tiring of progressive Democratic rule. “Something is seriously wrong”, says Republican County Board candidate and Tea Party funder John Vihstadt.

    Vihstadt booster Libby Garvey, too, professes “deep concern” over Arlington’s direction. Likewise, unsuccessful Democratic County Board Candidate Cord Thomas claimed, “The mood of the electorate is frustration”.

    But do the actions of Arlington voters support allegations of discontent?

    Thomas’s loss in the Democratic caucus suggests active Democrats do not share these pessimistic views. But what about the broader electorate?

    Capital improvements are a focus of criticisms by Republicans and Garvey. If there were growing unease over Arlington’s investments, it could perhaps be detected in voter support for bond proposals.

    Over two decades, however, average support for biannual bond authority has held close to 75% — landslide territory.

    But what about support for Democratic County Board candidates?  

    Support for Democrats during opposed elections has fluctuated between about 50% and 75% over the past two decades. It is strongly and positively correlated with turnout. The trendline for the Democratic share of the vote is basically level, rising slightly over the twenty-year period to reach 65%. Here, too, there is no suggestion of rising dissatisfaction with progressive Democratic governance.

    Arlington Democrats do not have a lock. In low-turnout special elections in 1993 and 1999, Democrats failed to earn 50% of the vote and were defeated. In the 2012 low-turnout special election, the Democratic nominee squeaked by with a 49% plurality.

    Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. This may yet be the year for Vihstadt and Garvey’s negative message. But it cannot be said that Arlington voters to date have shown an appetite for course correction.

    Democrat Alan Howze, an impressive candidate, will be wise to work hard to energize Democrats so he can win the April 8 special election. Republican Vihstadt is well-funded and serious. Low turnout is in the interest of Garvey and the Republicans.

    Howze would also be smart to balance his image of youth and freshness with a healthy respect for Arlington’s traditional progressivism. For decades, its support among voters has in broad terms been unabated.


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