Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Electoral College and the Politics of Virginia and Tennessee


Yesterday I was a guest on WCYB’s News at Noon show.  I was there to discuss the upcoming election - nothing too fancy, mostly a conversation about the potentialelectoral significance of Virginia and Tennessee, respectively, on the 2012 presidential race.  I don’t think it is online, so I figured I’d share my bullet points.

Consider:

(1) The president of the United States is, of course, elected according to an Electoral College method - for most states (including Virginia and Tennessee) this means that whichever candidate wins the plurality of votes (that is to say the largest number of votes) wins all of the electoral votes.

(2) Virginia and Tennessee are important electorally - respectively they have thirteen and eleven electoral votes, putting them both in the second (of five) tiers of states.

(3) Frequently Tennessee is portrayed as a definitively Republican bastian, but Tennesseean presidential politics are not as predictable as most folk imagine.  Since 1972 the Republican party has won seven times while the Democrats have taken three contests.  The Republicans clearly have some serious advantages - especially in Middle and East Tennessee, but not so much so that outcomes can be regarded as inevitable.  The picture is a bit cloudier as well because the state has received comparatively little attention when it comes to polling - the most recent poll I’ve found (by Vanderbilt University) came out in late May of this year and it gave Romney a 47% to 40% advantage over Obama, but that leaves a (for this race, at least) big margin for both parties to play with.

(4) The Commonwealth looks like a very difficult race to call - Obama leads narrowly in most polls, often by a difference equivalent to a margin of error. This is a bit surprising to many.  After all, Virginia has voted Republican in every race since the emergence of the contemporary party/ideology alignment that emerged after the Second World War with only two exceptions - 1952 and 2008.  But the fact remains that Virginia is changing demographically.  The state is becoming more ethnically and religiously diverse and far more urbanized with the population centers shifting overwhelmingly to northern, central, and eastern Virginia and away from Southside, the Eastern Shore, western, and southwest Virginia. This trend is offset slightly by Virginia’s very high veteran population, but clearly the Democrats are becoming a force in Commonwealth presidential elections.  A huge factor in this election’s outcome will be turn-out.  If inner-city and minority voters turn out the vote, the Democrats win; if they don’t, the Republicans win - nothing could be simpler or more difficult to predict.