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Immigration, Demographics Slowly Change Virginia Politics

Virginia's voting population is slowly changing, due to immigration and the rise of often excluded groups.
Virginia's voting population is slowly changing, due to immigration and the rise of often excluded groups.
October 19, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - With new voters migrating to the state, observers say Virginia is very gradually trending in a progressive direction. Jon Liss, co-executive director with New Virginia Majority, says more immigrants, people of color and other traditionally liberal voters help explain why Democrats have been winning state-wide races.

He says much of this is in an arc from Hampton Roads, through Richmond and into Northern Virginia. Liss says the pattern has yet to really impact general assembly races like those next month, but that might be coming.

"Demographics are not destiny, but it's trending this way slowly but surely - new voters, African-American voters, immigrant voters, voters of color, young voters, women voters - will vote proportionate to their numbers in the population," says Liss.

Conservatives argue the state and the country is reacting against a liberal president. Liss argues that shows up more in mid-term elections than presidential years.

Liss says the state has long had an entrenched, conservative, almost aristocratic, political culture - hence low taxes, skimpy public benefits and a pro-business climate.

Liss says it's no accident that only a handful of the 146 General Assembly races this year will be competitive thanks to how the districts are drawn.

Plus, he says, the state has a tradition of discouraging voting through strategies like scheduling elections when turnout is likely to be low.

"That's a pretty explicit intent of setting it on an off year," says Liss. "There's maybe a dozen and probably really seven or eight races that are highly competitive."

A greater portion of Virginians are people of color than the national rate, with about one-in-five African American.

That number has been stable for years, but Liss says Virginia is getting waves of immigrants from other countries, first from Latin America and now from Asia. He says they are typically younger and have larger families.

Liss says he's sensing a shift in attitudes, with Virginia being more welcoming to immigrants.

"Five years ago there were literally dozens of anti-immigrant bills for every legislative session," he says. "But honestly, I've felt like the rhetoric, for at least the last couple of years, has generally toned down."

Information on things like polling sites can be found at elections.virginia.gov.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA