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Voices of Virginia: Common Concerns and Shared Understandings is a new venture of the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists founded in 2016 by a group of anthropologists interested in understanding the political environment after the 2016 presidential elections. Voices of Virginia promises an accessible study of the experiences and perspectives of Virginian communities and their reflection of the evolving political spectrum in the United States. This project explores commonalities and differences that build alliances and conflict among different groups reflected in civic engagement and voter experiences. The study seeks to demonstrate the relevance of anthropological research methods for tackling issues of concern to policymakers, advocacy and interest groups, the mass media, and the public. Additionally, Voices of Virginia contributes to higher education in the fields of political science and political anthropology by partnering with universities and colleges to provide hands-on research experience for students in the social sciences.


How Voices of Virginia Came To Be

Voices of Virginia began in 2016 from a salon of local anthropologists in the DC/MD/VA metro area who sought to understand the political environment post-2016 Presidential elections. It was decided an ethnography would be an effective way to better understand this topic, while creating a new outreach and educational venue for WAPA. It not only presents an opportunity for collaborative research, but an opportunity to provide training, experience, and mentorship to social scientists of every educational and professional background.

Virginia in the 2016 Presidential Election

During the 2016 elections, Virginia was one of eleven definitive swing states. “Swing state” defines a state that could viably be won by either the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate and that both parties target for their campaigns. Until the 2008 presidential elections, Virginia remained a consistently Republican-centered “red” state until the majority vote went to the Democratic party. Through the 1960’s, 70’s, 80s, and 90s, Virginia favored the Republican party. But in the 2000s, populations in traditionally democratic regions increased and caused the state's political spectrum to shift. In the 2008 elections, Virginia gave the majority vote to the Democratic party for the first time since 1948. In the 2016 elections, Virginia became a swing state due to an expanding urban and immigrant demographic in the Northern, Tidewater, and Richmond regions compared to the more homogenous Shenendoah, Southwestern, and Appalachia regions. However, despite Virginia’s 13 electoral votes going to the Democratic party, the popular vote by county in Virginia favored the Republican party.

2016 Virginia Election Results by County 

Of the 95 counties in Virginia, 40 voted majority Democrat versus 82 counties that voted majority Republican. Those that voted majority Democrat were counties located in or near major urban and demographically diverse regions. Because of this, Voices of Virginia focuses on three majority Democratic counties and three majority Republican parties for their representation of different environments, demographics, industries, and cultures.

The Regions of Virginia


Six regions were chosen for their demographics, diversity, history, sociocultural and political qualities. Each region represents a key perspective that is reflective of the political diversity in Virginia and intended to infer a greater representation of political diversity in Virginia and the United States. To ensure that each political perspective is equally represented in the research, three regions (Urban, Northern Virginia, and Tidewater) represent a majority Democratic/Liberal predilection, while the remaining three regions (Southwestern Virginia, Appalachia, and Shenandoah) represent a Republican/Conservative majority.

Urban Virginia

Richmond City, Chesterfield, and Henrico counties make up the urban region of central Virginia. Richmond hosts a local economy centered on tourism, law, biotechnology, marketing, and finances. Richmond City has consistently voted majority Democratic with residents leaning towards a liberal/libertarian political view. The Richmond and Henrico counties voted majority Democrat in 2016, while Chesterfield voted majority Republican, but by a small margin.

Annandale, Northern Virginia

Referred to as ‘NOVA’ by local communities, the Northern Virginia region consists of Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Loudoun, Prince William County, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Warren counties. It is the most populous and affluent region in the state of Virginia and the Washington DC metropolitan area. The local economy of NOVA centers on government and technology industries and is a central area for international relations. Annandale is the focal point for the northern Virginia study because its diversity represents a strong immigrant and minority population. Annandale is located in Fairfax county and voted majority Democrat in the 2016 elections.

Tidewater

The Tidewater region represents the southeastern geographic area of Virginia. It is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain that encompasses the U.S East Coast. Tidewater contains 28 counties that include Accomack, Arlington, Caroline, Charles City, Chesterfield, Essex, Fairfax, Gloucester, Hanover, Isle of Wight, James City, King George, King and Queen, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Prince George, Prince William, Richmond, Stafford, Surry, Westmoreland, and York. It contains the most
individual counties of the six regions and 
surrounds the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. It is the 
site of the Naval Station Norfolk and the popular tourist location of Virginia Beach. Tidewater’s local
economy is built 
upon US military, tourism, and major cargo ports. Of the 28 counties, only the largest counties of Northampton, Surry, Charles City, and Sussex voted majority 
Democrat in the 2016 election.

Appalachia

The Appalachia region of Virginia represents a section of the  205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. Virginian Appalachia is notable for its economy consisting of mining, agriculture, chemical industries, and heavy industry. Virginian Appalachia consists of the Alleghany, Bath, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Henry, Highland, Lee, Montgomery, Patrick, Pulaski, Rockbridge, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe counties. Of the 25 counties in the region, the entirety voted majority Republican in the 2016 election.

Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley region represents the western region of Virginia. This region is connected to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cultural region covers an area that includes the valley pin addition to the Virginia highlands to the west, and the Roanoke Valley to the south. Shenandoah is famous for its caverns and is the home of the Luray Caverns. Shenandoah’s economy is similar to the Appalachia region as it includes the agriculture, manufacturing,
forestry, and mining industries. The biggest  
industries 
are manufacturing and both federal and 
state government. Shenandoah is made up of the  Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, Page, 
Rockingham, Augusta, Rockbridge counties.  All of the Shenandoah counties voted majority Republican in 
the 2016 elections.

Southwestern Virginia

For purposes of this project, Southwestern Virginia is defined by 13 counties that include Alleghany, Bedford, Botetourt, Carrol, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Henry, Montgomery, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, and Roanoke counties. Southwestern Virginia’s economy is similar to Appalachia and Shenandoah. It consists of agriculture, mining, and manufacturing industries. These three regions share economic and
cultural backgrounds
 that bind them together into 
the greater Valley & Ridge region. However, it is 
the differing historical backgrounds and cultural shifts that set them apart. Of the counties in
Sou
thwestern Virginia, the majority voted Republican except for Montgomery County thavoted majority
Democrat, 
but by a small margin in the 2016 election.


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