News Column

Virginia Solidifies its Role As a New Swing State

Nov. 7, 2012

By Chuck Raasch, @craasch, USA TODAY

President Obama narrowly won Virginia Tuesday, buoyed by overwhelming support from black voters and big margins in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Challenger Mitt Romney failed to get the boost he had wanted from outer Washington, D.C., suburbs, and despite doing better among independents than 2008 candidate John McCain, Romney fell short in a state he needed to unseat the president. But he was able to cut into Obama's 6-point 2008 margin in a state whose changing demographics make it one of the nation's newest swing states.

Virginia Tech communications professor Robert Denton said that Obama capitalized on strong showings in areas of Virginia that are rapidly growing, but that Romney's strong get-out-the-vote efforts mitigated that advantage for the president. Close-in Washington suburbs have trended Democratic and exploded in population over the last decade. But Denton also said that Obama capitalized on the growing diversity of Virginia, and that a late Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign among college students also helped the president

Exit polls showed that Obama won black voters by more than 9-to-1, and that turnout among blacks could match four years ago, when Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964. The president also won younger voters in Virginia by roughly the same percentages he did in 2008.

Romney was mounting a stronger challenge to Obama than McCain in 2008 by winning more independents than McCain. Exit polls also indicated Romney was winning among white and among voters over 45 by larger margins than McCain did.

Pocketbook issues dominated. More than 60% of Virginia voters told exit pollsters the economy was their top concern, and a third said their financial situation was worse than four years ago. Romney won more than 90% of voters saying they were worse off than four years ago.

Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University, said older Virginians are worried about their nest eggs and their children's job prospects. "These people got hit hard by the Great Recession," he said. "This is a group that would be receptive to a message that the country needs change in its leadership" at this time.

But Rozell also said he was not surprised younger Virginians, especially those under 30, stuck with Obama, even those struggling financially. "They are not driven merely by economic issues, but by social and cultural issues, and the Republican Party is not connecting with these younger voters on those issues," Rozell said.

Tuesday's results further solidified Virginia's role as a new swing state.

"Demography is that destiny in Virginia, and that is something that future politicians are going to have to talk about," Denton said.

Contributing: Meghan Hoyer



Source: (c) Copyright 2012 USA TODAY


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