As the above VPAP visual illustrates, turnout was all-important in last month’s election. It was the highest it’s been in the past 20 years, 7 percentage points higher than the next-highest level, in 1999. The Commonwealth records 5,628,989 registered voters for 2019. Voter registrations have been on the rise over the past several years.
Observers attribute these trends to a variety of reasons but it seems clear that the electorate in Virginia is expressing its increasing interest and investment in democracy, in particular, state governance as the recent off-off year election demonstrates. The state’s electoral roll has increased by over 400,000 since 2012 at the same time its Board of Elections is purging those rolls. But demographic dynamics are substantially altering the Commonwealth electorate (See New Voters Turned Virginia Blue, 11/18/19, https://wp.me/p9wDCF-Q7).
Since 1990, the Virginia population grew by 38%. In 1980 56% of age-eligible residents in Virginia were born in the state compared with 45% at present. Now, one in ten voters were born outside the United States while that figure was one in 28 in 1980. Thus, at the same time the dynamics of population growth and concentration are intersecting with increasing voter registration and electoral participation. As these newcomers settle and increase in numbers, the political mix of the electorate will alter the fortunes of political parties and their candidates.
These dynamics are factors requiring political parties to undertake adjustments to strategy and campaign appeals especially at the grass roots. Concurrently, these changes force increased competition among candidates and party platforms. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can rest on prior successes at the polls. Over time, even gerrymandering is likely to be displaced in a more diffuse effort by political parties to attain a majority in turnout at the polls.
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