Suffolk’s 90-percent election record

Published 8:21 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

Following the 2008 elections, when Virginia voters were instrumental to Barack Obama’s victory, there was significant discussion amongst political pundits concerning the “purpling” of Virginia. The commonwealth had been predictably conservative in its choice of candidates for national office, politicos said, and the fact that the Birthplace of Presidents had supported a Democratic candidate for president and was now represented by two Democratic senators showed an important swing to the left.

Following Tuesday’s wide victories for the Republican Party in Virginia’s statehouse and governor’s mansion, there is a predictable argument over just how far the commonwealth may actually have swung. Was the red state actually turning blue last November when citizens supported so many Democrats, or were the election results driven more by other factors, such as the historic opportunity to vote for a black man as president? As a “purple” state, can Virginia be counted on to support either political party?

They are all interesting questions that are sure to occupy the thoughts of campaign managers, commentators and academics for years to come. But an interesting and often overlooked dynamic could prove even more engaging in coming elections. Suffolk voters, it turns out, have picked the winners in nine of the last 10 elections that included the offices of president, senator or governor.

That’s a pretty good record for Suffolk. And it probably has a lot to do with the city’s demographics.

Whereas many of Virginia’s regions are homogenized by geography, race, socioeconomic status or other factors, Suffolk has become an amalgam of many different — and sometimes conflicting — influences. There’s rural versus suburban, wealthy versus poor and highly educated versus under-educated. The city’s military influence — unlike that of much of the rest of Hampton Roads — is tempered by a significant portion of the community that has little military connection. There are folks with old money, folks with new money and folks without money.

In short, Suffolk has become something of a miniature reflection of the larger society. That’s not entirely surprising, but it could be a useful attribute for state and city leaders to extol when they’re dealing with the national media, polling companies and the like. Perhaps there’s even an economic benefit the city could reap from its record of voting prescience. Imagine, for example, network news anchors broadcasting from outside city hall while election returns come in during the 2012 presidential elections, interviewing citizens about their choices as they pass on the street.

Actually, with that image in mind, perhaps Suffolk should keep quiet about its distinction.