ICYMI: A muted voice in Tuesday’s special election

My latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. The title references this:

Norfolk voters in the 6th ceded the decision of who should represent us to voters in those three [Accomack, Northampton, and Mathews counties] localities. Combined, they accounted for about 53 percent of the votes cast Tuesday.

Writing, as I typically do, early Wednesday morning, that statement was based on my analysis of the votes cast as of that time. I’ve updated my calculations for the totals as of this morning – and they hold true. Norfolk voters overwhelmingly stayed at home Tuesday.

11/1/13 reg voters % of district votes cast % of votes cast turnout
Accomack County 23438 23% 6576 32% 28%
Northampton County 8889 9% 2348 12% 26%
Mathews County 6872 7% 1848 9% 27%
Norfolk City 62014 60% 9428 46% 15%
Virginia Beach 2899 3% 198 1% 7%
 Totals 104112 100% 20398 100%


(I had to use the 11/1/13 registered voter totals because that is the latest available on the SBE website. Norfolk’s was actually slightly higher – 62,483 – according to the official results (pdf) from the city.)

That nearly 85% of Norfolk voters in the 6th stayed at home is absolutely appalling. While I’m holding my thoughts as to why this race was so close for another post, let me just put one thing to rest right now.

I’ve heard an awful lot of comments about the black vote in Norfolk. Let’s be perfectly clear: this time, it wasn’t about the black vote not turning out. Norfolk is not a majority black city. As of 2010 (pdf), Norfolk is 47% white, 43% black, and 10% other races. The trick to understanding where the white and black vote is in Norfolk is by looking at the precinct numbers, because the first digit matches the ward in which they are located. Norfolk has three majority white wards – 1, 2 & 5 – and two majority black wards – 3 & 4. While there are precincts within each majority black ward that are majority white – like my own, 406, which the mayor famously said during the city’s redistricting, movement of which to the majority black superward 7 would make that ward “more white”- and vice versa, they are few.

The precincts in Norfolk in the 6th Senate, save my ward, are all in the majority white wards of the city and encompass some of the wealthiest areas. Last November, Norfolk gave Terry McAuliffe an overwhelming victory, nearly 69% of the vote. But if you look at just the precincts in the 6th, you’d see a different picture. My calculations show these precincts went for McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli by a smaller 58% to 33% margin. The 10-point differential? The black vote in the rest of the city.

And don’t forget the entire district is but 28% black.

There’s a whole lot of reasons why this race was closer than many – myself included – thought it would be. But the black vote wasn’t one of the reasons.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.


8 thoughts on “ICYMI: A muted voice in Tuesday’s special election

  1. On 9 November 2013, I explained that I thought Lewis was a preferable candidate over Paula Miller because I anticipated that 55% of the electorate was going to come from outside of Norfolk. The turnout figures look like a tragedy if you’re just relying of VPAP’s district profile or the registration numbers, but based on past performance, Norfolk’s participation was about where I expected it would be.


    I’ll try to dig out the turnout model I built to make that calculation at some point this weekend and see if I can figure out why the math worked out the way it did. Off-hand, I would guess that it probably has a lot to do with the amount of turnover in Norfolk’s population as opposed to Accomack and Northhampton resulting in substantially smaller numbers of un-purged inactive voters.

    1. In 2011, 55% of the 6th Senate votes came Accomack, Northampton & Mathews, so this isn’t the first time Norfolk has done this. But I expected different in this special election. Norfolk was 59% of the vote in November’s gubernatorial race. The city is capable of exercising its heft. It just didn’t happen this time.

      1. Yeah I’m certain my model weighted much more heavily on 2011 and 2007 for the lack of a statewide candidate driving turnout. Spending (of both time and money) is so heavy in Norfolk during statewide elections that it’s not particularly indicative of how voters will behave when left to their own devices.

        Now, maybe if the state party had planned to spend on Lewis the way the Senate Republican Causus spent on Coleman, they could have expanded the GOTV universe in Norfolk and done some paid doors, but they probably thought–as I did–that 45% of the vote coming from Norfolk was going to be enough.

        Which, to be fair, I think we were right. But, you know, only just barely.

        1. Yeah, barely. BTW, the 59% I mentioned above (in case it wasn’t clear) was the share of the vote total in the 6th.

          In my model, I looked at 2011 & 2013, mainly because I think 2013 gives a sense of the base Republican vote. Special elections are notorious for being base elections. There simply isn’t enough time to appeal to crossover voters. But on a precinct-by-precinct basis, the Norfolk numbers are really telling.

          1. I used 2004 Miller relative to 2005 gubernatorial to predict how much the raw vote would drop off, normalized with a couple other special elections. It ended up being pretty reliable: I was expecting 21% turnout across the district. Miller had about 22% turnout in her district.

            I used several elections to weight where thought where that 21% would come from proportionately across the district, but 2011 factored in most heavily.

            I used several elections to weight what I thought the vote share by precinct was going to look like, with 2013 AG factoring in most heavily. Which is a huge part of why I wanted Lynwood; I’m rating Accomack as more solidly Republican than others might if they’re putting more emphasis on the gubernatorial results (which I pushed to the background because personality predominated so much in that contest).

            Basically, the fundamentals are all there in my model. I thought the election was going to turn on Accomack, and it basically did. I just also happened to think that Lewis would break even in that county (overperforming the 2013 AG voteshare by about 9-10%). That’s not the only place he underperformed, but it’s the one that jumped out at me while I was watching the results come in.

          2. I hasten to add, though, that I’m very much looking forward to your next post on this race. You’re a much better analyst than just about any other blogger in the state. Moreover, while I predicted that it would happen, you’re correct that “nearly 85% of Norfolk voters in the 6th [staying] home is absolutely appalling.” Norfolk will risk being an afterthought in the mind of its state senator if her voters continue disregarding state leg races.

  2. Interesting that you went back to 2004/2005. But a lot of folks used the 2013 AG race to predict where the vote was coming from. In hindsight, that was a good choice, but I didn’t think so at the time.

    Look for my post on what happened later this week.

  3. Muted. Holiday. Does the person who writes your headlines even understand what you’re talking about?

    Back to the topic though, I think the cold probably had an effect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong correlation in Norfolk between proximity to the polling place and turnout once the new voter lists are released. It seemed like everyone who came to vote at Granby lived on the same 4-5 streets closest to the elementary school. People are used to driving long distances in rural areas like the Shore and Mathews, not so much in Norfolk when its 13 degrees outside.

Comments are closed.