If you look at election maps as much as I do, you may have noticed that West Virginia, once among the most Democratic states in the Union, has trended Republican, while more Republican Virginia has been going the opposite way. What’s amazed me, though, is how rapid the change has been.
I’ve written before about the deepening of Republican control of Appalachia (see these two blog posts about Kentucky,) and the same pattern holds true in West Virginia. It has also been true in the mountainous regions of Virginia, but the simultaneous trend toward the Democrats in suburban Washington D.C. has been even more powerful. Take a look at this chart:
What that chart represents is how much the state’s presidential vote diverged from the national totals. In 2000, Virginia was 8.5% more Republican than the country, and West Virginia was 6.8% more. Pretty similar, and George W. Bush carried both states. He won both in 2004, too, but they switched places. This time, Virginia was closer to the national average, at +5.7% Republican, and West Virginia was a deeper red at +10.4.
Barack Obama’s election exacerbated the trend, just as it did in Kentucky. In 2008, Virginia was 0.9% more Republican than the national average–close enough for Obama to win the state. John McCain carried West Virginia, which was now +20.4% Republican. In 2012, the states divided the same way, only more so. Virginia was now 0.02% more Democratic than the nation, an almost exact bellwether. West Virginia was one of the best states for Mitt Romney at +30.6% Republican. A state Al Gore was shocked to lose in 2000 was, by 2012, not even worth campaigning in for his fellow Democrat.
The Republican margin of victory in West Virginia is so extreme that, if it were reunited with the much larger mother state of Virginia, the result would have been a narrow Romney victory (the combined state would be +4.5% Republican.) That’s not enough to change Obama’s electoral vote victory, but it is notable, in that West Virginia is usually so small compared to Virginia that combining the two means the smaller state disappears within the larger’s totals. That’s not particularly relevant, since no one is proposing to undo West Virginia’s 1863 separation from the Old Dominion, but it’s worth noting that the two states haven’t been this politically divergent since they separated.