Blue? Ridge Mountains: Modeling West Virginia Gubernatorial Elections

Author: Ben Vester
Major: Political Science, Economics
Approved: Spring 2019
Status: Completed

West Virginia’s politics are far more complex than national media coverage portrays them. Long a Democratic stronghold, the state has since become reliably Republican in statewide races. In the 2016, then-candidate Trump won the state by over 40 points. And yet, in the 2018 race for United States Senate, Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin prevailed by 3 points. This was the first instance in which a Democrat won a statewide election in a state that had voted for the Republican candidate in the most recent presidential election by such a margin. Seeking to understand the dynamics that explain these seemingly discrepant outcomes, this project models the 2012 and 2014 West Virginia gubernatorial elections. Using statistical analysis, it builds linear and logistic models to analyze election results and reveal the factors that sway statewide elections in West Virginia. It finds that political and economic variables meaningfully predict election outcomes. In addition to a deeper knowledge of West Virginia politics, the findings of this project serve as a starting point for future campaigns to develop into a valuable tool to inform their actions.