To the surprise of most observers, one lost: then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). He was replaced in the House by Dave Brat (R), a relatively unknown college professor. Brat served from 2015 until earlier this year — defeated by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, one of dozens of Democrats to seize Republican seats nationally and one of several in Virginia.
On Tuesday, Virginia became even more blue, with Democrats taking control of the state Senate and the House of Delegates. It was part of a strong night for Democrats nationally, one that prompted Republicans and conservatives to try to assess what went wrong.
One of those weighing in was Ingraham, now a Fox News host and a reliably supportive voice for President Trump. She dismissed the election results in Kentucky, where incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin apparently lost in a close race, as a function of Bevin’s own failings and his having not embraced Trump’s agenda properly, somehow.
She reserved a different bit of analysis for Virginia. Among the factors there, she suggested: immigrants.
“Democrats took control of both state houses, giving them full control of the entire government for the first time since 1994,” Ingraham said. “Now the road to Democrat dominance in the commonwealth was paved long before Trump took the presidency. The undeniable fact is that demographic changes throughout the state, but especially in Northern Virginia, have altered what was once a moderate to right-of-center state. And it made it really a Petri dish for radical left-wing ideas.”
“Virginia’s foreign born population nearly doubled from 2000 to 2017,” she continued. “And these immigrants are mostly concentrated in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, outside of D.C. and they are altering the demographic makeup of the state. And, as The Washington Post and others have pointed out, the electorate.”
She added some additional bits of data about immigrants in the state, including the diversity of languages spoken in Fairfax County schools. The argument isn’t subtle: Immigrants are giving Democrats electoral victories. In fact, she put a fine point on it.
“Since immigrants are more likely to vote Democrat, well, this, of course, has dragged the electorate to the left,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life.”
This is a central argument to her — and Trump’s — rhetoric about immigrants. During the 2016 campaign, Trump warned that, if he lost, Republicans wouldn’t win again, because Democrats would grant voting rights to millions of Democrat-voting immigrants. Ingraham’s argument is meant explicitly to bolster that anti-immigration narrative.
It’s a bad argument.
Let’s take that first point, about Virginia’s foreign-born population “nearly doubling” since 2000. That’s a bit of an exaggeration; the foreign-born population in the state increased by 78 percent. That’s still considerably faster than the population grew overall (18 percent).
Let’s color Virginia light blue here, to show that it voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 10 points or less.
So how does Virginia compare with other states? Well, 11 other states saw their foreign-born populations grow at faster rates over that same period (dots above the Virginia dot). Twelve saw their overall population grow faster (dots to the right).
How’d those states vote in 2016? Nearly all of the states that saw faster population growth and faster growth in their foreign-born populations voted for Trump in 2016. Only four states that grew faster than Virginia in one of those two ways voted for Clinton. The four states in which the foreign-born population grew the fastest were all strongly supportive of Trump — North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and South Carolina, in that order.
You know what other state saw its foreign-born population grow faster than Virginia’s? Kentucky, where Ingraham blamed Bevin for losing, not the rapidity of the state’s foreign-born population growth.
Rate of growth is a silly metric to use, of course, unless you’re trying to alarm people about a surge of immigrants. Virginia does have a relatively high percentage of foreign-born residents compared with other states, and the density of the foreign-born population in a state does correlate to voting patterns.
But that population also overlaps with other factors. Most immigrants, for example, live in cities, and cities are already places that are much more likely to vote Democratic.
We can see that reflected in Virginia itself. Ingraham focused on the immigrant population in Northern Virginia, the area right around Washington. On the map below it’s the dark-blue county at upper right (Fairfax) and the counties to its west and south (Loudoun and Prince William, respectively).
A big chunk of Virginia’s population is in those counties — about a quarter of the total population.
Those counties are also home to a little over half of the foreign-born residents of the state.
But only about half of that group can actually vote. About 14 percent of the population of those three counties are naturalized adult citizens. By comparison, white women with college degrees make up about 11 percent of those three counties. That’s a group that Ingraham also identified as contributing to the Democrats’ ongoing success.
But compare the map above to the one below, which shows the results of Tuesday’s state Senate elections. Yes, the Democrats took control of the Senate, but they only flipped two seats — and only one of those, the 13th District, was in the region that Ingraham focused on as she blamed immigrants.
She’s right that changes in the northern part of the state are why Virginia is now blue. But those changes have much more to do with the growth of the D.C. suburbs and an influx of Democratic-voting college-educated residents than anything else.
But, then, she’d just gotten done claiming that Trump had helped Bevin come back from a 19-point deficit in the polls, something that clearly didn’t happen. So it’s possible that her goal was less education about politics than proselytization about immigration.