With the recent Virginia election results, Kentucky Democrats should be encouraged about future gains. (That would include me – a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 11th district.) So the question is whether the Virginia victories could be duplicated in Kentucky. It appears unlikely unless Kentucky Democrats can reach beyond the urban core and suburban haloes of places like Jefferson County.
The Democratic governor candidate, Ralph Northam, won the Virginia governor’s race by nine points–a convincing and, to many, an unexpected win. All 100 house seats were up for election in the Virginia legislature. The New York Times called the Virginia legislative races the “purest test of grass-roots anger” at the president.
Virginia Republicans had held a 66-34 majority. Heading into the election, Democrats needed 17 seats. As of November 10, 2017, fifteen house seats had been flipped from Republican to Democratic control. A few of the elections were so close that they remain in different stages of a recount. Review of the map above shows that the overwhelming majority of “flipped” districts were in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
The inspiration for this blog post comes from an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”). There, the WSJ compared Virginia counties by income, education, and political polarization. The gist of the article was that the Washington D.C. suburbs with their highly educated and affluent households skewed the results. Insight into the Virginia election dynamics was more likely to be found outside of the D.C. metropolitan area. These counties were referred to as “stretch” counties in the WSJ article.
Virginia and Kentucky
Using roughly the same methodology, measures of education, per capita income and political polarization were either obtained or computed for both Kentucky and Virginia counties. (Ironically, the 2012 presidential election results were obtained from The Guardian, an English newspaper.)
Measures of education and income are correlated with voting preferences and can be a proxy for one another. Nate Silver, the editor for 538, wrote an excellent article on the interplay between the two and party preference. Silver concluded that “the education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years.”
Kentucky counties are the green points while Virginia counties are the rust-colored points. Note that in regards to polarity, Kentucky counties overwhelmingly voted for both Romney and Trump, especially when compared to their Virginia counterparts. By way of reminder, not all counties are created equally. Jefferson and Fayette counties each receive a single point but because of their population size have a huge impact on the overall voting totals.
Also, both in terms of education and income, Virginia counties outperform Kentucky. The rural Kentucky counties are more poor than Virginia’s poorest counties. The same can be said for education.
The crosses “+” represent the average of the their respective green and rust-colored points. One last note on the results is the rust-colored outlier. Arlington County, Virginia, lies on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington D.C. 54% of its residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher and the per capita income was $88,000. Clearly it pulls the Virginia average higher.
Virginia Flips in the Stretch Counties
Looking outside of the D.C. beltway, one can find a number of Virginia districts that were flipped by Democrats. Kentucky candidates might look to these Virginia seats in finding ways to succeed in the 2018 races. Examples include the following districts:
District 12–Chris Hurst(Hurst was the top fundraiser with $1.1 million.)
While Kentucky Democrats should be optimistic about their chances in 2018, most of the Virginia victories are a poor comparison for Kentucky. Virginia is less Republican, more educated and has higher incomes than Kentucky. Kentucky Democrats are likely to gain seats in 2018 and could be more effective if they learn from a handful Virginia races that occurred outside of the D.C. metropolitan area.