Election 2019: Changing Demographics Explain Democrats' Victory in Virginia

It's not suburbs vs. cities but inner vs. outer suburbs that determined the outcome of elections in Virginia last Tuesday that flipped the General Assembly from red to blue.

3 minute read

November 12, 2019, 12:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Virginia State Government

Eli WIlson / Shutterstock

As a result of the Nov. 5 election, Democrats won two seats in the Virginia State Senate to claim a 21-19 ruling majority and seven seats in the House of Delegates to hold a 55-45 majority, the first time since 1993 that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the executive branch. When the General Assembly convenes in January, the Old Dominion will become the nation's fifteenth Democratic state government trifecta, where one political party controls the governorship and both branches of the state legislature.

 Sabrina Tavernise, the lead writer for The Times on the Census, and

The role of immigration, as well as education, plays a key role in the new politics that helps to describe suburbanization. Foreign-born people make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, up from five percent in 1965, "almost as high as the last peak in the early 20th century," note Tavernise and Gebeloff. "The concentrations used to be in larger gateway cities, but immigrants have spread out considerably since then."

The influx of immigrants and their U.S.-born children, the spread of high-density suburbia and the growth of higher education all tilt the field toward the Democrats. Still, that doesn’t give them a lock on the state, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Michigan suburban split

The inner vs. outer suburban demographics were described by the two Times reporters in greater depth in an Oct. 25 piece, "Are the Suburbs Turning Democratic?" The dateline is East Grand Rapids, Michigan, a small, overwhelmingly white suburb of Grand Rapids, illustrative "of an equally powerful demographic trend — the rise of outer-ring suburbs, whose white population has grown by 25 percent since 1990, compared with a 1 percent decline in the inner ring." 

The other Kent County city described is Kentwood, far more racially diverse due in large part to immigration, and one of Grand Rapids’s largest inner-ring suburbs.  "In 2008, Kentwood tipped blue, and it never went back."

Democrats may be advancing in the inner-ring suburbs, but that does not mean they have conquered the suburbs over all. In many cities, the inner-ring advantage is not enough to counteract the powerful force of Republican voters in the outer ring.

Additional reading on the politics of the suburbs in The Times:

Related in Planetizen:

Saturday, November 9, 2019 in The New York Times

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

"It's The Climate" sign over street in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Oregon Town Seeks Funding for Ambitious Resilience Plan

Like other rural communities, Grants Pass is eager to access federal funding aimed at sustainability initiatives, but faces challenges when it comes to meeting grant requirements.

February 18, 2024 - The Daily Yonder

Close-up of bottom half of stroller being pushed onto sidewalk with no curb cut by person in jeans and brown shoes.

How Infrastructure Communicates Values

The presence and quality of sidewalks, curb cuts, and other basic elements of infrastructure can speak to much more than just economic decisions.

1 hour ago - Strong Towns

Greyhound and Amtrak buses at a temporary bus terminal in San Francisco, California.

Despite High Ridership, Intercity Bus Lines Are Eliminating Stations

Riders on the ‘forgotten stepchild’ of the U.S. transportation system find themselves waiting for buses curbside as Greyhound sells off its real estate in many U.S. cities.

2 hours ago - Governing

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Residents Push Back on Proposed Cap Park

State and local officials say the $1 billion project will heal neighborhoods divided by the Kensington Expressway, but community members say the proposed plan will exacerbate already poor air quality in the area.

3 hours ago - Bloomberg CityLab

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The Walkable City

Harvard GSD Executive Education

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.