How democrats Are shedding the battle for CountiesTracking 20 years of county-level presidential choice changes


— Democrats, an especially at the presidential level, are maintaining or raising their electoral stamin in occupied areas, yet Republicans space strengthening their hold on much more rural areas.

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— This tradeoff has led to a decrease in the number of counties won by autonomous candidates because 2000, specifically on the presidential level. Therefore while Democrats continue to success a large number that votes, those votes space being concentrated in a smaller geographic footprint, which can affect the party’s competitiveness for offices where district lines are drawn.

— The variety of states where Democrats have seen the strongest decline in the variety of counties won because 2000 is 5 time as big as the number of states wherein they have actually seen the strongest rise in the variety of counties won. And also the claims with decreasing numbers that Democratic-won counties include such an important presidential battleground says as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The farming concentration of the autonomous vote

One that the inexorable political patterns of current years has actually been the declining number of counties winner by Democrats. Put simply, Democrats, an especially at the presidential level, are preserving or increasing their electoral toughness in populated areas, whether urban and suburban, as Republicans strengthen their organize on an ext rural areas.

During the era of president Donald Trump, Republicans have actually made gains even in those less-populated areas where democracy once had a opportunity of to win — from the small towns the Iowa and Wisconsin to the coalfields of east Kentucky and West Virginia to the industrial areas of northeastern Ohio.

While Joe Biden winner marginally much more of the nation’s an ext than 3,100 counties (and ar equivalents) than Hillary Clinton did 4 year earlier, it to be still a smaller number 보다 was won by every other autonomous presidential candidate this century (Al Gore in 2000, john Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012). A note: We offered Dave Leip’s Atlas that U.S. Presidential poll to rally the tables in this article, and we skipping Alaska, i m sorry doesn’t have counties or county-equivalents, and also Washington, D.C.

Table 1: Counties won by autonomous presidential candidates, 2000-2020


In numerous states, autonomous strength — whereby it exist at all — is focused in a handful of lived in counties.

For instance, in the 2020 presidential election, 2 says saw every solitary county poll for Trump: Oklahoma and West Virginia. Meanwhile, Biden won just 2 that 120 counties in Kentucky, 5 the 92 counties in Indiana, and 3 that 95 counties in Tennessee.

This sample held also in claims that were an ext favorable to Biden in your topline results. In Michigan, Biden won simply 11 that 83 counties. In Minnesota, he winner 13 that 87. In Pennsylvania, he won 13 that 67. And also in Wisconsin, Biden winner 14 the 72 counties. Yet Biden controlled to win each the those 4 states, permitting his victory.

In some ways, this need to not necessarily be a trouble for Democrats. ~ all, they winner the presidency in 2020, when holding the House and moving right into a narrow Senate majority. The Democrats to be able to do that since most that the heavily populated counties in the U.S. Donate Biden, much more than compensating because that the loss of less-populous counties. Follow to calculations by demographer william Frey, 67 million an ext people lived in counties won by Biden 보다 those winner by Trump.

Still, bleeding support in lower-population counties is no a an excellent long-term strategy because that the party. Because that starters, it’s an indication that the party’s positions and also rhetoric room not being well received throughout the country. And also in a much more practical sense, the imbalance in populace density between Democratic and also Republican locations could median that republic will have a foot up as congressional and also legislative districts space drawn.

Below the presidential level, many statewide autonomous candidates’ results have mirrored those the the presidential race. Those who did much better than that are clear outliers.

Among sitting democratic senators, Montana’s Jon Tester winner in 2018 v 13 counties, compared to the 7 Biden would success in 2020. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin winner the very same year v 24 counties, contrasted to 0 for Biden 2 year later. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown won 16 counties in 2018, contrasted to Biden’s 7 in 2020. And also in Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar won in 2018 through 51 counties, contrasted to 13 for Biden 2 years later.

Among governors, Louisiana’s man Bel Edwards winner 24 parishes in 2019 — the Bayou State’s county-level indistinguishable — contrasted to just 10 for Biden the adhering to year, when Kentucky’s Andy Beshear won 23 counties in 2019, far more than the 2 won by Biden a year later on (although the was numerous fewer than Beshear’s father, Steve, won as soon as winning a second termfor governor in 2011).

Four autonomous governors chosen in 2018 also fared better than Biden would certainly in 2020, despite by an ext modest amounts: Kansas’ Laura Kelly, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Minnesota’s Tim Walz, and Wisconsin’s Tony Evers. 4 northeastern Republican governors have done the reverse, to win far an ext counties 보다 Trump walk in their state: Maryland’s Larry Hogan, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, brand-new Hampshire’s kris Sununu, and Vermont’s Phil Scott.

To gauge just how serious the democratic county decreases have been, us took a look in ~ how many counties the democratic presidential nominee won in the vote of 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and also 2020. Determining whether Democrats boosted in win a state’s counties over that period, stayed around the same, or decreased is more art 보다 science, yet we’ve done our best to categorize the 49 says with counties or your equivalents.

Ultimately, we chose to separation these states right into 6 categories based on a compare of 2000 and 2020: states that went strongly pro-Democratic in terms of county shifts; says that go modestly pro-Democratic; states that didn’t adjust much; states that go modestly pro-Republican; and also states the went strong pro-Republican, plus a lone example that has actually by far the many counties of any state — Texas — that merits highlighting ~ above its own.

One issue to note is the in countless states, the number of counties Democrats winner ticked upward in 2008, once Barack Obama won, and to a lesser degree in 2012, when Obama to be on the ballot the 2nd time, before falling back in 2016 and also 2020. By looking in ~ the comparison between 2000 and also 2020, we’re effectively setting the “Obama bump” aside, despite it’s an amazing question come ponder even if it is the Democrats will ever be able to harness some of what entered that “bump” later to turning back the an unfavorable trends outlined here.

Let’s start with the good news because that the Democrats: the states that observed either usually or an ext substantial gains in counties in between 2000 and 2020.

Table 2: claims with strong gains in Democratic-won counties


The 3 strongest says on our list have actually all moved toward Democrats because 2000. In Colorado, Gore won 13 that Colorado’s 64 counties in 2000, yet Biden winner 24. In Virginia, Gore won 31 counties (or live independence city equivalents under Virginia’s system) while Biden winner 46. And in California, Gore winner 20 counties however Biden winner 35.

Table 3: says with more modest benefit in Democratic-won counties


Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, every blue states, witnessed gains in democratic counties over the period, together did competitive new Hampshire. Yet perhaps an ext interesting is the 7 red says have likewise shown (generally modest) increases in democratic counties: Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and also Wyoming. Kansas and also Nebraska, because that instance, have actually seen democratic gains in suburban locations (like Johnson ar in suburban Kansas City) and Douglas ar (which consists of Omaha). In Utah, the autonomous victories have actually come both in urban Salt Lake County and also resort locations like Summit county (Park City) and Grand county (Moab).

Table 4: states where the variety of Democratic-won counties was mostly steady


We discovered 12 claims that had actually a usually steady variety of counties won by Democrats between 2000 and also 2020. They’re a mix of red (both Dakotas), blue (Hawaii and also Massachusetts, whereby Democrats have lugged every county for the previous several elections, too as brand-new Jersey), and also purple says (North Carolina and Nevada). One state stand out here as notable: Arizona. Biden won just one more county 보다 the other autonomous nominees because 2000, yet that extra county to be Maricopa (Phoenix), a mega-county that is the source of around 60% the Arizona’s votes. This was vital in his narrow statewide victory.

The strongest moves, however, have remained in the says that saw declines in the variety of Democratic-won counties.

We discovered 21 states where the number of Democratic counties normally declined in between 2000 and 2020 — 14 through stronger motion towards the GOP and also 7 with much more modest movement. The 14 states with strong movement towards the GOP in counties won is practically 5 time as plenty of as the 3 says with strong movement in the direction of the democracy over that period.

Table 5: says with modest declines in Democratic-won counties


Table 6: claims with stronger declines in Democratic-won counties


A few of these “declining” states for Democrats room blue states. Two of lock — Illinois and brand-new York — have actually a dominant and strongly democratic urban center along with an outstate an ar that has actually been drifting far from the party.

But at least 9 (possibly more, depending on your definition) are solidly red states, or almost half of the 21 claims in the decreasing category. They include some that the strongest numerical decreases in autonomous counties of any type of state. For instance, between 2000 and also 2020, the variety of Democratic counties declined from 32 come 8 in Arkansas, 15 come 2 in Kentucky, 36 come 3 in Tennessee, and 13 come 0 in West Virginia.

The declines were even much more massive if you compare 2008 — the year the Obama’s very first election success — v 2020. Obama won his residence state the Illinois v 46 counties in 2008, but Biden won simply 14. Obama winner 53 counties in Iowa, but Biden won just 6. Obama won 47 counties in Michigan, however Biden won simply 11. Obama winner 22 counties in Ohio, whereas Biden won just 7. And Obama winner 59 counties in Wisconsin, compared to just 14 for Biden.

Perhaps the most worrisome tendency for democrats is the number of purple states in the “declining” category. Not just are together Trump-won states as Florida, Iowa, and also Ohio in this category, yet so space the Biden-won says of Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The said, the variety of counties won can be deceiving: Biden flipped Georgia regardless of winning under counties there than Gore, who shed the state by dual digits — such is the power of democratic growth in the fast-growing metro Atlanta area.

The Georgia tendency is somewhat similar to the last state, Texas, i m sorry we’ve put in its own category. In Texas, the Obama bump hosted on v 2016, prior to declining in 2020 — also though Biden came lot closer come winning the state 보다 Obama ever did.

Table 7: A hard-to-characterize county pattern in Texas


This fan to a collection of distinct circumstances in Texas, a state where urban and also suburban counties have actually been trending blue while mainly Hispanic, rural counties have actually been trending red.

In Texas critical year, democrats won previously Republican Tarrant ar (Fort Worth) and Williamson and Hays counties (suburban Austin), however they shed a numerically larger variety of Clinton-won counties in the rural, hispanic Rio Grande valley.

This is a microcosm of the democratic trend nationally: profit in populous counties, accident in smaller-population counties. In Texas, the was sufficient to permit Democrats to small the Republicans’ presidential margin of success in the state from practically 9 points in 2016 to around 5.5 points in 2020. Will certainly the tradeoff between big and tiny counties be enough for democracy to win elections nationally end the much longer term? just time will tell.

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Louis Jacobson is a an elderly Columnist because that Sabato’s crystal Ball. He is also the an elderly correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact and also is an elderly author the the Almanac the American national politics 2022. The was an elderly author of the Almanac’s 2016, 2018, and 2020 editions and a contributing writer for the 2000 and 2004 editions.