A Country Divided: Election Maps by County

When President Obama was elected he achieved a significant margin of victory in electoral votes (365 to 173). Some pundits are now wondering why Obama seems to have lost this mandate but their arguments are questionable. Over at the HorseRaceBlog at RealClearPolitics, Jay Cost delves into some of these arguments with his usual statistical approach. Read the whole thing but what was struck by was the following graphic. It shows the historical party breakdown for past presidential elections on a county by county basis. Unlike the red-blue charts you are use to this one uses blue for Republican and yellow/brown for Democrat.


Cost offers the following commentary on the figure.

As should be clear, Obama’s victory was geographically narrower than Reagan’s, LBJ’s, Ike’s or FDR’s. Substantially so. Obama did much more poorly in rural and small town locales. They have a history of progressive/liberal support, but Obama was unable to place himself in the rural progressive tradition of William Jennings Bryan. This makes his coalition the most one-sided of any on the above maps. Most of his political support comes from the big cities and the inner suburbs. The exurbs, small towns, and rural areas generally voted Republican (with notable exceptions in the Upper Midwest).

In fact, if you look at presidential elections going back 100 years, Obama’s is the most geographically narrow of any victors except Carter, Kennedy, and Truman – none of whom had transformative presidencies. Even Bill Clinton in 1996, whose share of the two-party vote was comparable to Obama’s, still had a geographically broader voting coalition. Ditto George H.W. Bush in 1988.With such a divided picture of the electorate, the group that will break the tie, in many cases, are independents. Every indication is that Obama is losing the support of independent votes in droves. If that trend continues for the next three months then the impact on the November midterms will be staggering.

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