This morning, I tweeted about these excellent maps (by “Orca” on Twitter), which illustrate that “from 2000 to 2020, Albemarle County, VA went from a 5 point margin for Bush to a 33 point margin for Biden, a swing towards Democrats of over 39 points.” That got me wondering what happened with other jurisdictions from 2000 to 2020 in terms of shifts in presidential results. So I downloaded the numbers for 2000 and 2020 from the Virginia Department of Elections and compared the results, by locality. I then graphed it in descending order of increased Democratic percentage margin increase (positive numbers mean that the Democratic margin increased; negative numbers mean that the Democratic margin fell between 2000 and 2020). See below for the graphic (click on it to enlarge); here are a few things that jumped out at me.
- Overall, Virginia shifted 18 points in the “blue” direction between 2000 (when Virginia went by 10 points for George W. Bush over Al Gore) and 2020 (when Virginia went for 8 points for Joe Biden over Donald Trump).
- The jurisdictions showing the largest 2000-to-2020 presidential election POSITIVE swings for Democrats are overwhelmingly in the Northern Virginia-Richmond area-Hampton Roads urban/suburban “crescent,” with a few exceptions: Harrisonburg (+54 points “bluer”); Manassas Park (+49 points “bluer”), Falls Church (+47 points “bluer”), Charlottesville (+45 points “bluer”), Fairfax County (+43 points “bluer”), Fairfax City (+43 points “bluer”), Williamsburg (+42 points “bluer”), Henrico (+41 points “bluer”), Loudoun (40 points “bluer”), Albemarle (+39 points “bluer”), Arlington (+38 points “bluer”), Alexandria (+36 points “bluer”), Manassas (+36 points “bluer”), Prince William (+35 points “bluer”), Chesterfield (+35 points “bluer”), Richmond (+34 points “bluer”), Danville (+29 points “bluer”), Fredericksburg (+28 points “bluer”), Staunton (+28 points “bluer”), Newport News (+28 points “bluer”), Lexington (+28 points “bluer”), Emporia (+27 points “bluer”), James City County (27 points “bluer”), Stafford (+27 points “bluer”), etc.
- The jurisdictions showing the largest 2000-to-2020 presidential NEGATIVE swings for Democrats are overwhelmingly in rural southwestern Virginia and western Virginia: Buchanan County (+87 points “redder”), Dickenson County (+70 points “redder”), Russell County (+67 points “redder”), Lee County (+63 points “redder”), Wise County (+61 points “redder”), Tazewell County (+58 points “redder”), Norton (+55 points “redder”), Scott County (+47 points “redder”), Giles County (+43 points “redder”), Smyth County (+41 points “redder”), Grayson County (+36 points “redder”), etc.
- So…what happened is that the jurisdictions swinging in the “red” direction mostly have relatively small populations, while the jurisdictions swining in the “blue” direction mostly have relatively large populations (including by far the largest jurisdictions in Virginia – Fairfax County, Prince William County, Virginia Beach, Loudoun County, Chesterfield County, Henrico County, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Arlington, Richmond, etc.). Hence, the net swing of the Commonwealth as a whole, strongly in the Democratic direction (albeit still not solidly “blue” in non-presidential years, when turnout drops off).
- Amazingly, in 2000, some places that today are strongly “blue” went for George W. Bush over Al Gore. For instance, Fairfax County went narrowly (202k-197k) for Bush; Loudoun County went comfortably (42k-31k) for Bush; Prince William County also went fairly comfortably (53k-45k) for Bush; Henrico County went strongly (63k-49k) for Bush; Albemarle County went narrowly (18k-16k) for Bush; etc. Also, Chesterfield County, which went 107k-93k for Biden in 2020, went overwhelmingly (70k-39k) for Bush in 2000; Pretty wild, huh? Oh, and Stafford County – which went nearly 2:1 for Bush in 2000, went narrowly (40k-38k) for Biden in 2020! So what changed? I’d argue there are at least two big factors at work: 1) the Republican Party lurched hard to the right, alienating a lot of suburban “moderate” voters; 2) population grew rapidly in a lot of the formerly-red-now-“blue” jurisdictions – mostly in suburbia – with a rapid increase in racial and ethnic diversity as well, and they mostly are not interested in voting for a party that’s vocally xenophobic, racist, etc.
- Meanwhile, some places that were NOT solidly “red” in 2000 – or were even “blue” – are now overwhelmingly Trumpist/MAGA Republican. For instance, in 2000, Wise County (which went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020) just barely (6,504-6,412) went for Bush over Gore in 2000, while Russell County (which also went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020) actually went for Gore (!) in 2000 (the vote was 5,442-5,065). Buchanan County actually went strongly (5,745-3,867) for Gore in 2000, but in 2020 went overwhelmingly (8,311-1,587) for Trump. Also, Dickenson County went solidly (3,951-3,122) for Gore in 2000, but by 2020 went overwhelmingly (5,748-1,503) for Trump. Of course, these jurisdictions mostly have small (and in many cases shrinking) populations, are overwhelmingly White, used to have strong unions (e.g., coal miners) but not so much anymore, etc. Plus, I’d blame the rise of a strong right-wing media ecosystem and the decline of strong/vibrant local news outlets – meaning that people are getting a steady diet of right-wing narrative, framing, etc. and not much to counterbalance that disinformation – for a lot of this shift in the “red” direction between 2000 and 2020. Plus, of course, there was the appalling “Tea Party” (which claimed to be about “the spending,” “Obamacare,” etc. but clearly wasn’t) and Trumpist backlash to the election of the first African-American president in our country’s history, etc. So Democrats have become and urban/suburban (and somewhat exurban) party, while Republicans have become more of an exurban/rural party. Are there any other factors you think caused these massive shifts in the “red” direction in just a few years?