- 31 декабря 2016, 23:24
- POLITICO. Top Stories
In the run-up to the election there was no shortage of lists of counties that the electoral cognoscenti would be watching to determine the fate of the all-important battleground states. Crafted from the cumulative expertise of veteran campaign reporters, reams of polling data, decades of demographic and voting trends, these compilations of 10 and 25 and 50 counties offered the kind of comfort one gets listening to the captain drone on about flight time and cruising altitude. Sit back, the lists said, we’ve got this. Yeah, well, a funny thing happened in the voting booth. Turns out all of us experts were looking at the right battleground states, but the wrong counties. We were concentrating on places that had mattered in previous election cycles while Trump was pulling a card from his sleeve in towns and out-of-the-way counties that the pundits—and the Clinton campaign—hadn’t paid much attention to before. Florida could well be decided by Hillsborough County, many said. Actually, not this time. North Carolina hinges on the counties surrounding Winston-Salem and Raleigh, many predicted. Again, not so much. But there were other counties in those states that made a big difference in deciding who will have his hand on the Bible on January 20. So, with the benefit of hindsight we offer a list of places that mattered more than we expected. Keep them in mind when you put together your insider’s list in 2020.
Jackson County, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s rural Jackson County (pop. 20,554) has gone blue every election since 1984, and isn’t known for much other than an annual festival that celebrates the endangered Karner blue butterly indigenous to the western side of the state. But this election, Jackson County went red, red, red. Obama’s 15-point victory in Jackson County four years ago became a 12-point loss for Clinton.
Yes, Trump’s appeals to the white working class probably had something to do with that flip. It’s probably also related to the fact that Clinton never visited Wisconsin during the general, while Trump held a rally in Eau Claire—less than an hour away from Jackson County—a week before Election Day.
But both the frustrations of rural voters and Trump’s ambitious rally schedule would have meant nothing without such dismal Democratic turnout in Milwaukee. Because even though Clinton won Milwaukee County by a greater margin than Obama won it four years ago, she actually received 40,000 votes fewer than he did, thanks to an 8 percent drop in turnout. As a reminder, 40,000 is almost double Trump’s margin of victory state-wide. City slickers couldn’t get excited about Clinton, and that’s why Trump’s strategy to energize rural voters in places nobody thought mattered—like Jackson County— paid off.
Wayne County, Michigan
As Michigan’s largest county and the home of Detroit, a big margin in Wayne County is key to any Democrat winning the state. And like in the urban areas of other states, Clinton underperformed here: She won nearly 80,000 votes less than Obama did four years ago. The New York real estate mogul also won slightly more votes than Romney—whose dad was the governor of Michigan—suggesting that this rust belt state responds better to a working class economic message than traditional political loyalties.
Because the Clintons paid inadequate attention to getting out the vote in Detroit, Trump could capitalize on his gaining momentum in Wayne County’s neighbor to the north, Macomb County. Analysts and pundits knew long before election day that Macomb, which voted for Obama in 2012 and is known as the birthplace of the Reagan Democrat, could swing for Trump. For once, they were right: Trump ended up crushing Clinton 53.6 percent to 42.1 percent. But even that would have been surviveable if Clinton hadn’t so severely underperformed in Detroit.
Penobscot County, Maine
Clinton was expected to win Maine, and she did—but Trump can still claim a mini-victory of sorts. Unlike other states, Maine does not use a winner-take-all system. Instead, it awards two electoral votes to the overall winner, and one vote for the winner of each congressional district.
Penobscot County is the state’s third largest county and the population anchor of its 2nd Congressional district, which covers the majority of the state’s rural and inland areas. While Obama carried every Maine county but one in 2012, Trump flipped almost all of the 2nd congressional district’s counties, including Penobscot, and therefore won an electoral vote that belonged to Obama in the last two elections.
Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
Plenty of political observers—POLITICO included—predicted that Luzerne, which hadn’t picked a Republican since 1988, would be a battleground where Trump could win, given the county’s aging, working-class population. As it turned out, Luzerne County wasn’t a battle of evenly matched opponents so much as a slaughter—Trump trounced Clinton by more than 20 points. That put the GOP nominee 25,000 votes ahead in a crucial state where he eked out a 45,000-vote win. Elsewhere in the state, in counties where Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders during the primaries, like Cambria County, a former steel and coal center in western Pennsylvania, she lost to Trump by even bigger margins in November.
With the rural counties in his pocket, Trump clinched the Keystone State by overperforming in Philadelphia. Unlike other urban centers around the country, Philadelphia actually voted more conservatively than it did in 2012; Clinton won 28,000 fewer votes than Obama, and Trump won 9,000 more votes than Romney. If Clinton had just done as well as Obama had in both Philadelphia and Luzerne Counties, she would have won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
Howard County, Iowa
This rural area, with a population of less than 10,000, has the distinction of being the only county in the country that Obama won by more than 20 points in 2012 but Clinton lost by 20 points four years later.
A 40-point flip might be extreme, but it’s also representative of a regional trend. The majority of counties on the border that Iowa shares with Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota flipped from Democrat to Republican this election, most of them by at least 20 points. It was those counties that helped Trump recover from his loss in the February Caucus and dominate in Iowa, win an upset in Wisconsin, and do better in Minnesota than anyone expected.
Orange County, California
Not every surprise this general election is something that Republicans should feel good about. California’s Orange County, known for decades as California’s conservative stronghold, went blue this year for the first time since 1936. That might not matter much in presidential politics—if the Democratic nominee can’t win California, he or she has bigger problems—but it does suggest a political shift that could have repercussions in the House. Republican incumbent Representative Darrell Issa, for example, whose district straddles the border of Orange County and San Diego County, only won reelection by the skin of his teeth. The county’s other three Republican representatives also won reelection, but all by smaller margins than two years ago. As Trump shifts the GOP coalition toward working-class whites, well-to-do Orange County Republicans might find they can no longer take their California stronghold for granted.
Gwinnet County, Georgia
In retrospect, it’s laughable to think that Democratic Party had a shot at winning states like Georgia when it couldn’t even maintain its own “blue wall” around the Great Lakes. But even though liberal optimism turned out to be unwarranted, it’s worth noting that Clinton actually performed better in the Peach State than Obama did four years ago. That’s largely thanks to Atlanta suburbs like Gwinnet County, which went for Clinton by six points when it went for Romney by nine points in 2012.
Gwinnet County is quickly growing in size and diversity—as of last year, less than 40 percent of its residents are non-Hispanic whites—and it isn’t the only Atlanta suburb that switched allegiances this year; nearby Cobb County and Henry County likewise broke tradition and voted Clinton. Those counties alone couldn’t get snag the state for the Democrats, but it’s indicative of Trump weakness with suburban voters, and it might be a sign of things to come if Democrats play their cards right.
St. Lucie County, Florida
Bellwether counties like Hillsborough County (home to Tampa) were supposed to make or break the Sunshine State for the two presidential hopefuls. As so many pundits pointed out, no candidate had won Florida without taking Hillsborough since 1960. But Clinton managed to win Hillsborough and still lose Florida, mostly because Trump did so well outside of the cities. One urban area Trump did flip from blue to red, however, was St. Lucie County, on Florida’s east coast. Historically, the stretch of Florida from St. Lucie down to Miami-Dade is not friendly to Republicans, rife as that region is with liberal transplants from the New York area. Trump’s 2-point victory in St. Lucie confirms that he didn’t win Florida, and its cache of 29 electoral votes, exclusively on the backs of rural voters.
Robeson County, North Carolina
Observers picked out Forsyth and Wake counties, home to Winston-Salem and Raleigh respectively, for special attention, predicting Trump would need to cut into Clinton’s margins in these left-leaning cities if he expected to take one of the most prized battleground states. In hindsight, it would have made more sense to look at Robeson, a county where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans five to one. It’s no surprise that Obama won here handily in 2012, but this year, Robeson County shifted more to the right than anywhere else in North Carolina, and Trump won by five points. Demographically, this shouldn’t have happened; in addition to being dominated by Democrats, Robeson is the most diverse rural community in the country. As of 2010, the local population was 40 percent American Indian, 24 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic or Latino, and just 29 percent white.
What happened in Robeson County? Well, for one, the local economy was devastated by NAFTA and a changing manufacturing sector. Between 1997 and 2000, the area lost 41 percent of its manufacturing jobs. This snowballed into a local economic collapse, and by 2003, according to one study, Robeson County had shed 18,435 jobs and $713 million in salaries and business taxes. In a county of 125,000 (Robeson’s population at the time) that equals around $5,000 per resident. As long as Republicans backed free trade agreements there was never a reason for the county’s voters to quit their habitual support for Democrats, but Trump’s anti-trade deal rhetoric gave them a chance to defect, and they did in droves. Without exit polls, we don’t know what percentage of those defectors were people of color. But even if Trump won every single white voter in Robeson—half of whom are registered Democrats— mathematically he must have won nearly a quarter or more of the county’s minority voters. Seeing as the collapse in local manufacturing disproportionately hurt rural blacks, maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising.