Students helped swing Va. to Obama

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November 7, 2008

3:04 AM

__Flat Hat Staff Writer Felicia Tsung also authored this article.__

Tuesday’s presidential election was marked by immense change both in the United States and in Virginia.

For the first time since 1964, the Old Dominion voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. According to government professor Stacey Pelika, a specialist in American politics, students were a major reason for that change.

The race for Virginia in the presidential election was by no means a landslide. For at least three hours after the polls had closed, CNN did not project a winner because both candidates were competing within 2 to 3 percent of each other.

Ultimately, Obama carried Virginia with 52.3 percent of the vote, compared to McCain’s 46.6 percent.
In the Williamsburg area, however, the support for Obama was significantly stronger than the overall state results.

In the city, Obama took 4,328 votes, or 63.76 percent, while McCain took 2,353 votes, or 34.66 percent. The voter turnout for the City of Williamsburg, 81.42 percent, was much higher than the state average of 74 percent, and 6 percent higher than in 2000.

According to Williamsburg Voter Registrar Winifred Sowder and Pelika, the student vote was of particular importance in this election.

“I think a large reason why Obama won was because the college students could vote in the election,” Sowder said. “I think that really helped him carry Virginia.”
Pelika agreed, saying that the SA voter registration drives had a profound impact on the electoral results of the local election.

“I do think that students, especially the huge influx of student registrants in Williamsburg, had an effect,” Pelika said. “Williamsburg had the highest increase in voter registration this year. I don’t think you could say anything other than that [it] was due to students registering and turning out to vote.”

Not only did Virginia vote Obama for president, but the state also elected Democrat Mark Warner to the Senate, and six of 11 House seats went to Obama’s party.

However, Pelika said that Virginia is not a completely blue state.

“I think [Virginia] is still purple,” she said. “It’s a more bluish purple than it was before. I do think that Virginia is now solidly a swing state, which it wasn’t, and I don’t think anyone expected it to be [even] before this election.”

Pelika said that the recent economic crisis was the main impetus for Obama’s strong showing.

“I think that the severe economic downturn we saw in the last couple of months really filled up the industrial midwest for Obama in a way that he probably would have found a lot harder had that not happened,” she said. “So, I think that states like Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania that have been long-standing swing states were less likely to vote on cultural and social issues and more like to vote on economic issues.”

Pelika also said that because of the economic downturn, demographic groups like blue collar workers were what secured the vote for Obama in such crucial swing states as Pennsylvania and Indiana and allowed the Democrats to focus on more traditionally red states.

“Obama and his advisors smartly, and I’m not quite sure how, looked ahead and said ‘Okay, let’s say we’ve got Wisconsin, where do I go next, Virginia?’ and went for those states,” she said. “The rest fell into place for them.”

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