McAuliffe’s Stroll To Victory in VA Through the Burbs

You can cite any number of reasons for Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial win on Tuesday night, but in the end, the road to the Virginia governor’s mansion went directly through the state’s Urban Suburbs – with some help from College Towns and the African American South.

The American Communities Project has sifted through the still unofficial results and finds that those three county types were essentially game, set, match for Mr. McAuliffe in his race with Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Elsewhere in the state Mr. Cuccinelli triumphed and by big margins.

 Where McAuliffe and Cuccinelli Won in Virginia




Urban Suburbs




African American South




College Towns




Military Posts








Evangelical Hubs




Graying America




Working Class Country




Rural Middle America




What happened? There will be a lot of discussions and recriminations among Republicans, particularly considering how close the race wound up being. Perhaps Mr. Cuccinelli just needed a little more support. Maybe just a little more time. Perhaps he was hurt by the shutdown or by the campaign of Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.

But when you look at those communities and what we know about them in the ACP, Mr. McAuliffe went in with a huge advantage because of the opponent he faced.

From early on, Mr. Cuccinelli was framed as a social conservative. It was a role he took on himself. He made the campaign about President Barack Obama, which didn’t sit well with blacks who make up a large part of the African American South (in green on the map below). And he talked of running a campaign based on “first principles,” espousing very conservative positions on issues such as abortion and gay rights. Those simply are not issues that play well in liberal College Towns (in light brown).

They have also become a big liability in the Urban Burbs (in orange), which are trending liberal overall and which hold a quarter of the state’s population.

That was a big reason why the ACP was pretty certain Mr. McAuliffe was going to win Tuesday – as I noted in a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. And the Democrat didn’t just win the vote in the Urban Burbs in the aggregate, he won each county – all nine.

When you add up all the votes from the ACP’s Urban Suburbs, College Towns and African American South counties in Virginia, they provided 52% of the 2013 gubernatorial total.


That is a hard bit of math to overcome. And it is likely to get harder in the years ahead for conservative candidates in Virginia. The Urban Burbs, many of them based around Washington in Northern Virginia, are growing faster than the rest of the state.

Between 2010 and 2012, the U.S. Census estimated that Virginia’s population grew by about 2.3%. The Urban Burbs grew much faster around Washington DC – 3.4% for Fairfax, 4.5% for Alexandria, 6.5% in Arlington and 7.9% in Loudoun. Even Henrico County, an Urban Burb in the center of the state around Richmond grew slightly faster than the state average at 2.6%.

In fact, more than half of Virginia’s growth since 2010 has come from the Urban Burbs. If you remove them from the mix, the state grew at only a 1.1% clip.

When you look at the state through the ACP, the results Tuesday weren’t really much of a surprise. Within a few percentage points, these numbers essentially mirrored the results of the 2012 presidential race for Virginia.

Mr. Obama won the Urban Burbs in Virginia, 59% to 39%, Mr. McAuliffe won them 58% to 36%. Mitt Romney won the Exurbs in Virginia (counties such as Fauquier, Warren and Culpepper) 54% to 44%, Mr. Cuccinelli won them 53% to 39%. The turnout was lower compared to 2012, but the ratios, in essence, held.

That may be the real concern for the GOP in the 2013 gubernatorial results.

In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell won the governor’s mansion by winning many of the Urban Burbs including Fairfax, Loudoun and Henrico, breaking the pattern from 2008, when Barack Obama won all those counties. That changed with Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Cuccinelli and if that pattern were to hold, it would probably mean hard times for the Republicans in the Commonwealth.

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One comment on “McAuliffe’s Stroll To Victory in VA Through the Burbs
  1. Phyllis Wofford says:

    Very interesting data in the ACP. Unless the last 7 groups that Cuccinelli carried by 127% points don’t have many people living in those places, how could he have lost?

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