2012 Commentary: What Matters in Virginia This Election Year? Housing, Unemployment, Gay Marriage

ABSTRACT: Virginia is one of the key battleground states that will play a decisive role in determining who wins the presidential election. Here is a look at some of the issues that are important to Virginia's voters.

Over the next few months, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, will spend inordinate amounts of time and money to secure Americans' votes in the upcoming presidential election.
Both sides will focus a lot of attention on the Commonwealth of Virginia, a swing state whose 13 electoral votes are very much in play.

PBS calls the state a former "Republican bastion." Virginians voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election from 1964 to 2008. Over the past few years, that has changed, as large numbers of Democratic-leaning voters have migrated to Virginia from other areas. This group helped Obama carry the state in 2008. Either party's candidate could win in Virginia in 2012.

- Real Clear Politics compiled data from six surveys taken between March 13 and May 2, which shows Obama ahead of Romney by 3.2 percent.
- In the most recent poll, sponsored by The Washington Post, Obama leads Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent.

In short, the state's electoral votes are still up for grabs. The outcome may hinge on three, key issues:


The unemployment rate will be a major issue in all of the battleground states, including in Virginia. According to a May 14 Reuters article, Virginia's doing very well. In March (the most recent month for which there is state level data), it had a 5.6 percent unemployment rate, which was well below the national average of 8.2 percent. However, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicates that only certain areas of the state are benefiting from this hiring boom. Parts of southern and eastern Virginia are still dealing with double-digit unemployment rates.

The Housing Market

The housing market crash impacted large numbers of Virginia homeowners. Many people saw their home values drop significantly while others were forced to abandon their residences. While the current market outlook is not rosy, it is improving. Per Reuters, year-over-year home prices increased by 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 for the state of Virginia as a whole and 5.94 percent in heavily populated northern Virginia. Even more importantly, the Virginia Association of Realtors reports that residential home sales increased by 4.3 percent in the first three months of this year as compared with the first quarter of 2011. The Reuters article notes that the housing rebound may aid Obama's chances of winning Virginia in November.

Gay Marriage

Obama recently decided to publicize his support for gay marriage. According to The Washington Post, the president's announcement might not sway large numbers of voters one way or the other; in a recent poll, Virginians ranked gay marriage as the least important "among the 10 policy issues that were included in the survey." However, the article notes that the issue could be decisive in a tight race, though it is unclear at this time which candidate will benefit the most. Obama's support for gay marriage will likely galvanize younger voters while at the same time "motivate[ing] evangelicals who might otherwise be tepid about [voting for] former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney."

-- Anthony Hopper

#politics #Obama #Romney #elections #opinion

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