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Interactive: Examining political leanings in Va.

6 min read


Virginia is one of the swing states in the upcoming presidential election. Political analysts simply don’t know where its votes will go. Its 13 electoral votes are key for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as every vote counts in their bids for the presidency. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1972 except in 2008. In 2008, Obama won 53% of the vote and McCain won 46% of the vote. Analysts expect a close election this year. The Rasmussen poll taken Oct. 19 shows Romney leading Obama 50% to 47% in the Virginia polls with 2% remaining undecided.

The map and data below tell the story of the demographic and political makeup of the Virginia voters prior to the election. What will ultimately sway the voters in this state? What do we know about them? We’ll be sure to check back after Nov. 6 to see what the election results reveal.

General Population Statistics

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a population of just over 8 million people. Its population is just slightly less diverse than the total U.S. population, though its make-up is different. Esri, the world’s leader in geographic information systems (GIS), created a proprietary Diversity Index that measures diversity on a scale of 0 to 100. The Diversity Index is defined as the likelihood that two people, selected at random from the same area, would belong to a different race or ethnic group. The Diversity Index for Virginia is 56.6. This compares to a U.S. Diversity Index of 61. The diversity in Virginia is primarily due to the Black population. 18.7 percent of adults in Virginia identify themselves as Black. Just 6.9 percent of adults in Virginia identify themselves as Hispanic.

Here are some key demographic statistics about Virginia:

Demographic Variable



2011 Median Age



2010 % Male / % Female



2011 Median Household Income



% Hispanic 18+ Population



% Black 18+ Population



2010 Median Home Value

$ 208,968


Sources: Esri 2011/2016 Updated Demographics, U.S. Census

Esri provides Market Potential data that includes a Market Potential Index (MPI). The Index measures the probability that adults or households in a specific area will exhibit certain consumer behaviors compared to the U.S. average. The Index is tabulated to represent a value of 100 as the overall demand for the U.S. This Index shows that the residents of Virginia do not tend to be either conservative or liberal – rather they could be either. This may be due to the state’s proximity to the Washington D.C. area which is very liberal and the much more conservative areas of south and southwest Virginia.

Market Potential Variable


Consider self very conservative


Consider self somewhat conservative


Consider self middle of the road


Consider self somewhat liberal


Consider self very liberal


Sources: Esri, GfK MRI

A resident of Virginia is 4% more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative and 7% more likely to consider himself somewhat conservative. A resident of Virginia is 6% more likely than the average American to consider himself somewhat liberal and 2% more likely than the average American to consider himself very liberal.

Virginia Politics Market Potential Index

Click on image to view interactive map.

Where people live in Virginia does seem to alter their political leanings. Areas around the larger cities such as Arlington (and near Washington D.C.) tend to lean liberal. Overall, most of the ZIP codes have more people that lean conservative.

For Democrats, it is important to know that one of the ZIP codes with the highest likelihood of very liberal voters in Virginia is 22209 – located in Arlington. The Index for someone who considers himself very liberal is 303 – meaning a resident there is 3.03 times more likely to consider himself more liberal than the average American. For Republicans, the one of the most conservative ZIP code in Virginia is 22660 – which is Toms Brook, located in northern Virginia near the West Virginia border. The Index for very conservative people there is 140, meaning a resident is 1.4 times more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative.

Tapestry Segmentation Classifies Virginia Neighborhoods

Esri also developed the Tapestry Segmentation system that classifies U.S. residential neighborhoods into 65 unique market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. The top Tapestry segments for Virginia are:

Tapestry Segment

% Adults



Rooted Rural


Up and Coming Families


Enterprising Professionals


Sophisticated Squires


The most dominant Tapestry segment in Virginia is Boomburbs. These communities are home to busy, affluent young families. The median age is 36.1 years and the median household income is $104,395. The Boomburbs market includes one of the highest concentrations of two-income households. Residents are well educated: more than 50 percent of the population aged 25 years and older hold a bachelor’s or graduate degree. They work primarily in management, professional, and sales occupations. More than half of these households receive additional income from interest, dividends, and rental property.

Map of Virginia by Tapestry Segment

Click on image to enlarge.


The unemployment rate is a figure that voters and analysts have been watching and scrutinizing carefully. It has a great impact on the economy as well as affecting many people personally and will likely affect how people vote. The unemployment rate not only varies by state, but also by county. When Barack Obama was sworn in as U.S. President in January 2009, Virginia had an unemployment rate of 5.8%, which was lower than the national number of 7.8%. Virginia’s unemployment rate continues to be lower than the national rate. In August 2012 (the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for individual states), that number had increased slightly to 5.9% compared to 8.1% nationally. Of course, the rate for each county in Virginia varies based on its individual situation.

Virginia Unemployment Change – January 2009 – August 2012

Click on image to enlarge: Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most counties in Virginia have lower unemployment rates now than when Obama took over as president. However, a couple of counties with the highest populations in the state have an increase in unemployment. The county with the largest decrease in unemployment was Lancaster County, located in eastern Virginia along the coast. Its unemployment rate decreased 6 percentage points from 12.8% in January 2009 to 6.8% in August 2012.

The county with the largest increase in unemployment was Lexington City County, which is in the middle of Rockbridge County. Its unemployment rate increased 2.2 percentage points from 8.5% to 10.7% from January 2009 and August 2012.

Why Does This Matter?

Understanding the demographics of people who live in Virginia can help Barack Obama and Mitt Romney target their campaigns and even messaging as they campaign around the state. Knowing what the local issues are, what the demographic make-up of an area is, what the political leanings are of an area, where unemployment is high or low, where their likely constituents live, or knowing what types of activities they participate in can help them find their supporters – at a very local level. It can help them choose where to have rallies, distribute fliers, or where to focus robo calls. It can help them be in a better position to win an election.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at or to learn more about Esri in general, go to

Pam Allison is a digital media, marketing strategist, and location intelligence consultant. You can visit her blog at