Growing political polarization, in one chart

Growing political polarization, in one chart


Data source: MIT Election Data and Science Lab

In 2000, 51% of counties voting Republican were not close, with their candidate getting 60% or more of the total vote. By contrast, counties voting Democrat were typically much closer races, with only 22% of Democratic counties coming in at a margin of 60% or more for their candidate.

Since 2000, Democrats have doubled their share of blowout win counties, from 22% of counties won in 2000 to 44% in 2020. For Republicans, the shift is even more profound, from blowouts in one-half of counties they won in 2000 to four out of five in 2020.

Republican presidential candidates earn more votes than Democrats in about 80% of all counties, and in 80% of those counties, the race is not even close. Overall, uncompetitive races grew from 45% of counties in 2000 to 75% in 2020. It’s a remarkable change in U.S. politics, and it only took about one generation.

The trend is also evident in counties flipping from one party to the other. In presidential re-election years, a total of 221 counties flipped in 2004; 226 flipped in 2012. In 2020, just 84 flipped: 69 for the Democrat, and 15 for the Republican.

Pinellas County, Florida, (Tampa metro area) is the only county in the country that flipped in four of the past five presidential elections. No county flipped in all five. In fact, 77% of counties have voted for the candidate representing the same party since 2000.

One response to “Growing political polarization, in one chart”

  1. Did we make too much of Trump winning? – Civic Analytics

    […] weeks, I think we made too much of Trump winning. Clearly, in 2016 and 2020, Trump rode the wave of growing partisanship in counties electing Republican candidates for president. And while he did outperform his Republican predecessors in 2008 and 2012 in terms of the number of […]

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