Because of my interest in social statistics, I’ve been exploring county-level results from the US 2016 presidential election. The map below (click to zoom) summarises the results (blue for Democrat and red for Republican, coloured according to how strongly counties voted one way or the other). Nine of the more extreme counties are highlighted.
Most of the variance in this data can be explained by demographic factors such as race, age, education levels, local unemployment, rural-urban continuum code, and median household income. The latter is particularly interesting, and the chart below provides a summary.
On a scale from −0.5 being 100% Republican to +0.5 being 100% Democrat, the curve shows the average vote of counties by 2016 median household income (where the averages are weighted by county population sizes, and LOESS smoothing is used to draw the curve). Overlaid on the diagram is a bar chart for the total population of different median household income groups (the scale for this bar chart is on the right).
It can be seen that, at the very poorest end, votes are balanced between Democrat and Republican. For example, here are the 7 poorest counties in the United States, by median household income. They are all rural:
- Holmes County, MS: $22,045 (mostly Black, strongly Democrat)
- Buffalo County, SD: $22,500 (mostly the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, Democrat)
- Owsley County, KY: $23,115 (mostly White, strongly Republican)
- Wilcox County, AL: $24,216 (mostly Black, Democrat)
- McDowell County, WV: $24,460 (mostly White, strongly Republican)
- Clay County, KY: $24,901 (mostly White, strongly Republican)
- Stewart County, GA: $24,945 (mostly Black, Democrat)
Above that bottom end, votes trend Republican, with the peak Republican vote occurring at median household incomes around $40,000. Above about $56,000, counties swing Democrat, and the Democrat vote increases with increasing wealth. For example, here are the 4 richest counties in the United States, by median household income. They are all part of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area:
- Fairfax County, VA: $115,518 (Democrat)
- Falls Church, VA: $118,035 (strongly Democrat)
- Howard County, MD: $119,386 (Democrat)
- Loudoun County, VA: $134,609 (Democrat)
Essentially, the Republican Party seems to have become the party of the poor, particularly the rural poor. Indeed, the (population-weighted) median of 2016 median household incomes for Democrat-majority counties was $61,042; while for Republican-majority counties it was $52,490 ($8,552 less). For a visual perspective, the map below limits the previous one to counties with a 2016 median household income below $56,000. It is precisely because the Republican Party has become the party of the rural poor that these maps are mostly red. I had not fully appreciated this before analysing the data (although others have), but it certainly explains much of recent politics in the US. However, predicting the results of the next presidential election would require some solid demographically linked polling data as well as a good voter turnout model.