Articles and Analysis


Some Facts about the New Registrants in Virginia

Last week, I outlined the change in party registration figures in a handful of swing states. One of the footnotes to that post was that since Virginia does not have its citizens register by party, such an analysis was more difficult in that state. However, the growth in the registration rolls in Virginia may very well play an important role in this election. Bush won the state by 262,217 votes in 2004; as of September 8th of this year, more than 285,000 people have been added to the registration rolls since that election. The Obama campaign believes that they will see a big payoff from these new voters.

While we don't know the party of the new registrants in Virginia, we do know where those people have been registered and we may be able to draw some conclusions about their likely behavior based on this information. The map below shows the increase (or decrease) in the number of registered voters in each of Virginia's counties since 2004.


The counties with the largest registration increases are located in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Loudon County has added 31,798 new voters to the polls, Fairfax has 25,002 new registrants, and Prince William County has 16,682 more people registered than it did in 2004. (View the top ten counties here: View image). There are also big increases in registration in the counties surrounding Hampton Roads in the southeast of the state and in Chesterfield County, near Richmond.

These figures have made some Democrats very hopeful about Obama's chances in the state. However, it is important to gain some perspective about the extent to which these new registrants will matter in Virginia. For example, look at the types of counties where these new registrants are located.


Over 100,000 new registrations have been logged in counties where Kerry won less than 40% of the two-party vote in 2004 while just 71,466 new registrants are in counties where Kerry beat Bush. Of course, some counties that went for Bush in 2004 may very well go for Obama in 2008 and the Obama campaign may also be registering large numbers of new voters in heavily Republican counties. But it is important to note that the jump in registrants has hardly been concentrated in overwhelmingly Democratic areas. (See a map of the 2004 presidential vote by county here: View image).

We have heard a great deal about the role that Northern Virginia will play in the contest. However, we should recognize that while the increase in registrants in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC has been significant--over 100,000 new voters in this area--this is just a drop in the bucket in a state with over 4.8 million registered voters. In 2004, the DC suburbs in Northern Virginia accounted for 32.4% of all registered voters in the state; now, that same area accounts for 32.8% of the state's registered voters. There is no doubt that the growth in Northern Virginia is dramatic, but it takes time to substantially change the demographic and political balance in a state as large as Virginia. Thus, Northern Virginia accounts for just a slightly larger share of the state's electorate than it did four years ago.

Ultimately, it appears that polls are showing a tight campaign in Virginia because a significant share of people who voted for Bush in 2004 are expressing a preference for Obama in this election, not because of the new voters in the state. This is not to say that these new registrants won't matter. While new voters in Virginia won't be the reason that the race close, they could make the difference if the race is close.



I think you're including the DC exurbs of Loudoun and Price William counties in your Kerry


Odd, my posting was truncated, probably because I put a "less than" sign in it.

I meant to say that Brian is incorrectly including the DC exurbs in his pro-Bush counties, which are the key battleground area of the state. Kerry lost them by wide margins, but Sen. Webb and Gov. Kaine won them. The people who moved out to the fast growing Loudoun and Prince William counties bought expensive houses that have dropped in price and have long commutes. They're fiscal conservatives, not cultural conservatives...or as I told the Today show, "there are no moose or hockey rinks in Loudoun."



Firstly don't people die in Virginia too? How many people have been purged from teh lists or will be, when the final elector lists are issued.

Secondly how many of these rgistrations msy be fraudulent and challenged as in several states Acorn has been linked to thousands of duplicate and fraudulent registrations.

Thirdly, don't service women overseas make up a statistically significant part of the vote in Virginia, and these voters would not show up in any poll.



Sorry my last comment should say "service men and women overseas".



interesting analysis. i do think the dems, my party, are overzealous with respect to new voters. i think the dems are overzealous about everything. but with the economy plunging, the war saddling us, and bush having the lowest ratings ever -- AND, a septuagenarian running with a lightweight VP candidate -- Obama can still only muster up less than 1/2 of the votes. Remarkable.


Clint Cooper:

This article completely sidesteps the African American population. A lot of those counties in the east that have seen a big increase in voter registration have large African American populations, despite the fact that Kerry lost most of them.

Gee, I wonder who is registering to vote in those counties...


Brian Schaffner:

Thanks for the comments. The post was not meant to be a definitive analysis by any means, I mostly just wanted to provide some basic information about those increasing registration figures.

Just to clarify one point, I broke counties into three categories precisely because of the point Mike mentioned. I think there are several counties (like Loudon and Prince William) that Kerry got less than 50% of the two party vote in but Obama will probably win. That's why I had a separate category for counties in the 40%-50% range (Loudon and Prince William both fall into that category). As Mike rightly notes, these are the battleground counties in the state.

I was actually surprised to not find a stronger correlation between Kerry vote and new registrants, but I imagine we'd see a stronger relationship at a lower level of aggregation, such as precincts. That data is all up on the VA SOS web site if anyone wants to take the time to compile it!


Keep VA Red:

Thank you OBAMA! Your voter registration drive in Northern Virginia allowed me an easy opportunity to register and vote for McCain!


Clint Cooper:

According to an article I read, 75% of the new registrants are 18-35. That is stunning.


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