They say demography is destiny. In that case, here’s what the future of Virginia will look like, courtesy of the folks at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, who have issued the latest population projections for the state. This chart shows projected growth rates between now and 2020:
Here are some takeaways as they relate to politics:
* Notice that the coalfields are projected to continue losing population, along with other other scattered places in Southwest and Southside Virginia. We’ve devoted several posts lately to how the coalfields have flipped from being a Democratic stronghold (60%-plus for the D’s in some localities in 1988) to a Republican stronghold (70% plus for the R’s in some places this year). For the Republicans, that’s an increasing share of a shrinking pie.
* The biggest population gains are projected to come in the outer ring of localities around Northern Virginia (which, you’ll see, now pushes as far out as Frederick County, around Winchester), along with Chesterfield County south of Richmond and James City County just east of Hampton Roads.
* Of the seven localities forecast to grow the fastest (rates of 20 percent plus), two went for Obama (Loudoun and Prince William), the remaining five went for Romney. While that might seem initially encouraging news for Republicans, consider this: Who will those new residents be? Will they be Republicans? Or will they be the same types of voters who in recent years have caused Loudoun and Prince William to switch to the Democratic column? Case in point: Chesterfield County. It used to be the epitome of a GOP stronghold. In 2000, George W. Bush took 63 percent of the vote there. By this year, Mitt Romney polled only 53 percent of the vote in Chesterfield. Is it possible that as the population grows and changes, once-impregnable Chesterfield would drift into the Democratic column? Loudoun and Prince William sure have. (We should also note that this hasn’t been a permanent thing, either. Obama took those counties in 2008; Republican Bob McDonnell won them a year later in his race for governor. Obviously the electorate is different in a gubernatorial year, but the point is, those once Republican localities are now very much up for grabs).
* The largest locality west of the Blue Ridge is projected to be Montgomery County — with a population in 2020 of 105,293, with Roanoke city second at 99,287 and Roanoke County third at 98,413. We’ve asked before whether the disappearance of a Democratic base in the coalfields (at least in recent years) will make the 9th Congressional District permanently Republican? The question was meant to be thought-provoking, and at least one astute reader pointed out that population shifts will force the district to grow larger in redistricting. Republicans may try to figure out all sorts of alternatives but geography is a constraint — hard to redistrict into West Virginia, you know? So the realistic options long-term would appear to be these three, or some combination thereof:
– Expand into Southside Virginia. Downside for Republicans: That eats into the base of Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham.
– Expand into the Shenandoah Valley. Downside for Republicans: That eats into the 6th District, now held by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, and a district that, with only one exception has been solidly Republican since 1952.
– Absorb Roanoke city. Downside for Republicans: This adds a whole lot of Democrats back into the 9th District, something the party would like to avoid if it possible can. Right now, they’re safely hidden, for electoral purposes, in the safely Republican 6th, but would the 9th be safely Republican if they were there instead?
Not questions we have to answer anytime soon, but check back after the census in 2020, 2030 and 2040 for answers.
The Weldon Cooper has more details here — along with a nifty interactive map that shows population projections for each locality for the next 28 years.