Sunday, November 3, 2013

The 2013 Virginia Election / Preview Part 1


Every four years we hold an election for the offices of president and vice-president, as well as for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate – we normally call this a presidential election and it typically has the highest turnout.  Every two years we hold an election for the entire House of Representatives and, again, one-third of the Senate – unsurprisingly we usually call these elections congressional elections.

Now, here is the interesting bit.  Most of the states, forty-eight, synchronize their elections with the Federal elections – there are a lot of reasons for doing this, not the least because it saves time and money and increases the turn-out rate.  But two states have what we usually call off-year elections – the State of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Virginia – that are held in years that aren’t part of the Federal electoral cycle.  Why?  Well, in theory it helps people be better informed about electoral decisions being made for state and local elections.

Most political scientists are skeptical at best about this and generally argue that off-year elections receive less media attention in general, less voter focus, cost more, and have lower turn-out.  But I digress.

So, what elections are taking place this Tuesday?  Let’s take a look.

New Jersey is holding elections for the governor as well as both houses of its legislature (the Senate and General Assembly) – this one is important nationally principally because it another opportunity for Chris Christie to get some national coverage; important if he wants to eventually make a run for the presidency someday (which seems likely – he is clearly one of the darlings of the Republican center) – the race is generally considered a lock for Christie, despite some narrowing of his poll lead.

Virginia, on the other hand, is interesting for a few reasons. First, the Commonwealth is becoming a true battleground state – large areas of the state are dominated by one or the other major party, with significant transitional areas existing as well.  This is often ascribed to the fact that Virginia becomes more diverse, more formally educated, and more urbanized it is doing what states typically have done under those conditions in recent decades – it is becoming more and more the home of the Democratic party; areas where these trends are less significant have seen the Republicans remain more influential.  This complexity is unsurprising – in many ways we can regard Virginia as sharing the sort of cultural and economic complexity of other nearby states like Kentucky and Ohio – northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Tidewater are increasingly megalopolitian; western Virginia and southwest Virginia are still very much Appalachian, though the Shenandoah is increasingly influenced by its high density of institutions of higher learning.  Southside and large areas of central Virginia remain linked to agriculture, more so than even a few decades ago as much light industry has been outsourced to developing nations.  And the Eastern Shore is – well, the Eastern Shore, conservative, lightly populated, culturally distinct. Of course we could go into more detail, breaking down other specificities (Culpeper, Charlottesville, and the distinctions between southwest and deep southwest Virginia, for instance) but the sketch is quite adequate, I think.

As a result of these phenomena and the battlefield characteristics of Virginia (which have led to immense wealth and treasure being spent on propaganda advertising in recent years).  Is Virginia that important?  Sort of – particularly when you have the kind of close presidential elections that we’ve seen in the last few years.  But at least as significant is that Virginia is perceived as a bellwether state, an indicator of general trends in the United States political patterns (though honestly it isn’t as effective for this as Ohio, though its off-year characteristics increase its value).  

Tomorrow?  I run down the Virginia candidates.