A brief aside on yesterday’s election in Virginia
I live in Virginia (albeit one of the commonwealth’s few liberal strongholds*) and got my start in the blogosphere as a Virginia politics blogger, so if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to indulge my roots a little with a quick post on yesterday’s election. As far as I can tell, the conventional wisdom about yesterday’s election is that it represents a “shot across the bow” from independent voters worried about heavy spending and deficits. The election wasn’t a referendum on President Obama’s performance, but it was a sign that independents are increasingly uneasy with the liberal direction the country is taking.
As you can probably guess, I think this is complete bunk. For starters, self-described “independent” voters are often anything but; when pressed by pollsters, most independents will admit to leaning in one direction or another. In Virginia, it seems that most independents lean to the right – a poll from this summer suggests that the vast majority of independents identify as either moderate or conservative. If you were to ask independents who voted in yesterday’s election whether or not they supported John McCain in last year’s election, I’m fairly confident that a solid majority would say that they did. In fact, if you were to ask yesterday’s voters whether they supported John McCain, a majority would say yes – 51 percent, in fact. The problem for pundits trying to argue that the election was indicative of a broader national trend is that those who turned out to vote were older, whiter and more conservative than the average voter, and certainly the average Obama voter. Here’s a quick graph I made using the exit poll data:
The vast majority of the electorate was older and white, the overwhelming majority of whom supported McDonnell: 67 percent of all white voters went for McDonnell, and the total is similar for voters aged 45 and older. What’s more, 34 percent of total voters were white Republicans and 25 percent were white Independents, the vast majority of whom supported McDonnell.
To keep this analysis short, insofar that this election is indicative of anything it’s of stuff we already know: that the majority of voters in off-year elections are old, white and conservative, and conservatives are super-energized. I doubt that even a super-competent campaign could have turned out enough young and minority voters to help Creigh Deeds overcome this kind of demographic disadvantage.
* The People’s Republic of Charlottesville
Update: What the readers request, they shall receive! Here’s a graph made with data form the 2008 Virginia exit polls:
The differences are immediately apparent. For starters, white voters – while still a large majority – aren’t an overwhelming majority. What’s more, the percentage of older white voters is significantly lower in 2008 than in 2009, with the difference made up by more younger white voters (a near-plurality of whom supported Obama). Minority voters, who make up a large chunk of the Virginia electorate in 2008, gave the vast majority of their votes to Obama. Above all though (and what’s not in the graph) is the fact that in 2008, 37 percent of voters were self-identified Democrats, in stark contrast to yesterday’s contest, where only about 20 percent of the electorate identified with the Democratic Party. Again, comparing 2008 to 2009 is about the same as comparing apples and oranges, but far less delicious.