On the night of Nov. 3, the presidential election in Virginia was called for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden, and the former Vice President laid claim to all of the state’s 13 electoral college votes.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, Biden won Henrico County by a margin of around 29 percent—or 53,000 votes—but this victory was not distributed equally across the county. Henrico’s West End leaned Republican while the East End leaned Democratic. On Election Day, 80 percent of West End precincts voted for President Donald Trump compared to just 28 percent of East End ones.
The Godwin precinct reported 441 votes for Trump but only 252 votes for Biden. Similarly, the Ridgefield precinct reported 782 votes for Trump but only 402 votes for Biden. In the 2016 presidential election, the Godwin precinct reported 783 votes for then-Republican nominee Trump and 810 votes for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The Ridgefield precinct four years ago reported 1,104 votes for Trump and 999 votes for Clinton. However, any comparison that is made from these data must take into account the unique circumstances of this election, the pandemic, and the increase in absentee ballot submissions.
Though the President won the majority of votes cast on Election Day, absentee ballots counted after polls closed handed Biden the lead; 75 percent of the roughly 100,000 absentee votes in Henrico County were for the former Vice President.
According to the New York Times election results, throughout the state itself, certain enclaves of suburbs near large cities voted Democrat while the more rural areas voted the opposite. For example, Richmond, its suburbs, Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach all voted blue; most of Central Virginia and counties near Roanoke, however, voted red.
The 2020 election also saw a record number of Virginia counties that flipped toward the Democrats. According to WTVR and WSET, Chesterfield County and the City of Lynchburg both voted blue for the first time since 1948—that’s 72 years since a Democrat carried these regions. Virginia Beach, until this election, had not supported a Democratic candidate since 1964 with the election of President Lyndon Johnson.
Eric Claville, director of the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University, said Biden’s recent victory in Virginia Beach is a signal that voters will not tolerate President Trump’s extreme rhetoric and mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. “Racism is a bad business model. Psychologically, voters thought being a moderate is better for business,” said Claville.
As much as this victory might reflect Trump’s failures, it also reflects Virginia’s slow cultural transformation that has been decades in the making. In 2000, the Grand Old Party (GOP) held complete control of the state—Virginia voted for a Republican president, a Republican controlled General Assembly, a Republican governor and two Republican senators. Yet, just 20 years later, Democrats won control—Virginia voted for a Democratic president, a Democrat controlled General Assembly, a Democratic governor, and two Democratic senators.
Richmond, the former Confederate capital became a bustling region of college educated professionals, highly skilled workers and immigrants. Since 1990, the rural fields of Northern Virginia were replaced with suburban townhomes, and the state population skyrocketed by over 42 percent. According to the Virginia Census, Asian and Hispanic populations almost tripled, and the number of foreign-born residents roughly doubled.
The growing diversification and urbanization of the state drew in more liberal voters; on the contrary, the white, rural voter base of the Republican party slowly dwindled. All of these factors combined led to the growing rise of Democrats in Virginia.
Quentin Kidd, a political science professor and director of Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy, said that Virginia’s support of Biden was part of a larger movement of Republicans losing hold in the state’s more populous regions. “As Virginia develops a more urbanized core, … I do think there’s going to be a greater tendency to vote Democratic,” said Kidd.
However, this does not mean that the “blue wave” that has recently washed over Virginia will be permanent. If the future of the Democratic party turns more and more progressive, moving the party platform further to the left, the rather moderate state might revert back to a Republican stronghold. Similarly, a polarizing Democratic candidate might bear a similar effect on voting dynamics.