Virginia Notebook

Ideological Differences Between North and South Va. Will Challenge Candidates

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do Northern Virginians look at the world differently from residents of the rest of the state?

It's been a sensitive question in the commonwealth's recent electoral history, one that has gone hand in hand with an occasional suggestion that those who live north of the Rappahannock River don't hold the same views as those in "real Virginia."

When The Washington Post last week published an article featuring the voices of Northern Virginians who had taken part in a recent Post poll, respondents said gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds's rural roots made them anxious about whether he could understand their lives. Some readers said that the story reinforced stereotypes about differences between Washington area suburbanites and Virginians who live in other parts of the state.

But drill down further into the survey's results, and this much becomes clear: There are real distinctions between how voters in northern counties view issues and candidates and how Virginians elsewhere in the state look at them.

Start with transportation.

Northern Virginians, who face some of the nation's worst traffic, were twice as likely as voters in other parts of the state to cite transportation as a top issue in the governor's race. Twenty-four percent called it one of their top two issues, compared with 11 percent in other areas of the state. Twelve percent of Northern Virginia voters called it their most important issue.

Only in the state's southeast, where bridge and tunnel backups are a daily headache, were the numbers at all comparable. There, 12 percent of voters called transportation their top issue and 20 percent said it was in their top two.

Registered voters in NoVa are somewhat more likely to say they would pay more taxes to build and maintain roads -- 46 percent said they would be in favor of a transportation tax increase and 50 percent were opposed. Elsewhere, only 42 percent of voters said they would pay more in taxes for better roads; 56 percent were opposed.

The differences go beyond dealing with the region's perennial traffic jams.

Northern Virginians feel better than other Virginia voters about the direction of the state, about President Obama and about the federal stimulus package.

Perhaps buoyed by fewer job losses than seen elsewhere, 60 percent of Northern Virginia voters believe the state is on the right track. Only 43 percent elsewhere in the state agree. (That number dips to a meager 26 percent in the depressed western region, including the Shenandoah Valley.)

Sixty percent of Northern Virginia voters approve of Obama's job performance, eight points higher than Virginians elsewhere.

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