Voices & Choices

When ‘what goes around comes around’ doesn’t apply

When ‘what goes around comes around’ doesn’t apply

The flip from blue to red is not so easy to reverse.

Of the country’s 206 pivot counties — where Democrat Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, but Republican Donald Trump won in 2016—Democrats regained only 74, or 36 percent, of them in the 2018 elections.

What makes counties important? Elections are managed at the county level, making them a good source of data. At the same time, however, comparing data across counties can be misleading because they differ in terms of their functions, populations and geographic size.

Still, the fact that only slightly more than one-third of pivot counties reverted back to Democrats in November is noteworthy given that the party gained a net of 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and won roughly 10 million more votes than the Republican Party.

Democrats did not win back a single pivot county in 12 states—Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas or Vermont—and won back only one pivot county in three others: New York, Ohio and South Carolina.

Despite this, a closer look at the data reveals Democrats did gain back some ground, especially in traditionally Republican states. The party won every pivot county in Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota and South Dakota as well as four out of five in both Indiana and Virginia. In Elliott County, Kentucky, Democrats lost by a margin of nine percent in 2018 as opposed to their loss margin of 44 percent in 2016.

While it’s certainly possible Trump and the Republican Party have secured lasting inroads in these previously Democratic counties, the data should be examined cautiously given that 2018 was a midterm election year rather than a presidential one. It remains to be seen if the Democratic Party can get these counties to pivot back once again in 2020.

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