Analysis of 2013 governor’s race

November 7, 2013

When class met last night, students in MASC 644 Computer-Assisted Reporting analyzed the results of Tuesday’s general elections in Virginia, focusing on the governor’s race.

Among other things, we combined the county-level results from the State Board of Elections with voter registration data — and with the results from the 2009 gubernatorial race. That allowed us to see which localities had the highest and lowest turnouts, and which localities flipped allegiance since the last governor’s race.

Here is the spreadsheet we worked with. Feel free to check our math and observations. (You can also look at our work as a series of Web pages.)

Campaign spending

We also created a table showing not only how many votes each candidate received but also how much money each candidate spent. In that respect, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis — even though he received just 6.5 percent of the statewide vote — came out way ahead: He spent less than $1 per vote, while Democratic winner Terry McAuliffe spent almost $31 per vote and Republican nominee Ken Cuccinellli, $19 per vote.

Spending on the gubernatorial campaigns in 2013 was much higher than in 2009, even when accounting for inflation.

A Red State / Blue State

McAuliffe, of course, won the statewide vote: He got 47.7 percent of the ballots cast, compared with Cuccinelli’s 45.3 percent. But Cuccinelli easily won the most localities: The GOP tea-party favorite carried 90 of Virginia’s 133 counties and independent cities.

McAuliffe carried just 43 localities. But they included the most populous areas, such as Northern Virginia (Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties), Central Virginia (Richmond and Henrico County) and Tidewater (Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton).

Moreover, in several localities that McAuliffe won, he won really big — getting almost 9 out of 10 votes cast in Petersburg, for instance. In six localities, including populous areas like Richmond, Alexandria and Arlington, McAuliffe won more than 70 percent of the votes.

Cuccinelli also won more than 70 percent of the votes in six localities. But they were less populous (like Scott and Bland counties).

As a third-party candidate, Sarvis had an uphill battle. He was shooting for 10 percent of the statewide vote, which would have guaranteed the Libertarians a spot on future ballots. Though he fell short, Sarvis did carry at least 10 percent of the total vote in nine counties and cities.

Percentage-wise, Sarvis did best in Covington (almost 13 percent of the vote), Allegheny (12 percent) and Colonial Heights (11 percent).

Sarvis’ highest number of votes from a single county was 15,600 in Fairfax. (That represented 5.2 percent of the vote there.)

In Richmond, Sarvis received 5,200 votes, or 9 percent of the ballots.

Localities that flipped

McAuliffe won 23 cities and counties that had voted for Republican Bob McDonnell four years ago. For instance, in 2009, Chesapeake favored McDonnell over Democrat Creigh Deeds by a 60-40 ratio; this week, Chesapeake supported McAuliffe over Cuccinelli, 49-46. Likewise, Harrisonburg went 58-42 for the Republican nominee in 2009; on Tuesday, it went 52-40 for the Democratic candidate.

This could spell problems for the GOP in the future, because several of the localities that flipped are growing in population. They include Loudoun, Prince William and Henrico counties.

In contrast, only two localities flipped from voting Democratic in 2009 to voting Republican in 2013: sparsely populated Alleghany and Bath counties. (And one could argue that Bath voted Democratic four years ago only because that’s where Deeds is from.)

Voter turnout: 4 in 10

Statewide, about 42.6 percent of Virginia’s registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s race. That may have confirmed the predictions of voter fatigue voiced by many pundits leading up to the election.

Turnout ranged from 30 percent in Buchanan County to 58 percent in Goochland County. There were 17 cities and counties where at least half of the voters cast a ballot. A dozen of those localities supported Cuccinelli; five backed McAuliffe.

In the 43 localities that supported McAuliffe, the voter turnout was 42.3 percent. And in the 90 localities that supported Cuccinelli, the turnout was 43.1 percent.

More than 2.2 million votes were cast in the governor’s race Tuesday. That was a 12.6 increase over 2009. Why so many more votes? Because a lot more people were registered: The voter rolls increased from 4.7 million four years ago to 5.2 million.

The percentage turnout in the 2009 election was about the same as this year’s race: 42.1 percent.

This article is a “Data Drop brief” — a quick-hit posting based on analysis by students in MASC 644 Computer-Assisted Reporting. The intent of the exercise was to demonstrate how computer-assisted reporting can enhance stories on deadline. In this case, we downloaded Tuesday’s election results from the State Board of Election’s website and then joined the data with the results of the corresponding race in 2009. The analysis involved calculating, sorting and filtering to find patterns and trends.