Obama-Romney: The County Count

15 Nov

Those of you who  have either long memories or the irrepressible urge to ride herd on your scroll wheel will recall my early post on the breakout of the 2008 presidential election, the one in which John McCain won 72% of America’s counties. That ever-so-slightly counter-intuitive finding owes its piquancy of course to the immensely variable ranging of county sizes, the smaller of which massed in the McCain camp. All of which begs the immensely obvious follow on: so what happened this year?

The raw stuff of an answer is stocked in an Associated Press-compiled county data spreadsheet posted to the Guardian’s web site, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/07/us-2012-election-county-results-download#data

Be advised that if you’re forging that link the totals therein aren’t complete, presenting fractional totals for some counties and none at all for about 200 others; an update awaits, one trusts. And that’s just for starters; the AP broke out some states’ results by city instead of county, inciting an exhilarating round of hoop-jumping by yours truly in order to beat the data into shape (I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow, but I needed a smoke when it was done, and I don’t smoke). You can walk off with my adapted sheet here:

county-wide presidential results 2012

(The county codes in my sheet stand as proxies for their names, a consequence of those arduous shape-beating labors pointed to above.)

In any event, after having cleared the sweat from my brow and the keyboard, I determined that Mitt Romney won 77.7% of US counties, an expectable increment over his predecessor, given Romney’s superior vote percentage:

The larger inference, confirmed by the 2004 outcomes as well, is simply that Republicans own the county space –a minimal consolation to the losers, to be sure, but notable just the same, particularly in those states in which extreme lopsidedness prevails, e.g., Missouri, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas. Winning a state is one thing, but the kind of statewide partisan resolve exhibited by these states is striking. Indeed, Barack Obama posted an average of 60.5% of the vote in his winning counties; the corresponding figure for Romney is 66.9%. Moreover, the national average Romney vote for all counties stands at 60.8%; a mirage, of course, but a statement nonetheless.

Run the data through another permutation: of those counties in which the Obama/Romney vote aggregate came to 100,000 or less, Romney’s win percentage skies to .822. In the plus-100,000 districts – far fewer, but by definition the more populous – Obama wins them to the tune of .622.

One might finally ask if the Republican small-county hegemony dovetails with GOP sectarian states that simply happen to have relatively more, and hence, relatively smaller counties, or if county size itself attests some larger, more congenital Democratic/Republican differential. There’s some support for the latter thesis: the overwhelmingly Romney states of Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma – all of which evince a 90-plus percent county GOP win rate (Romney won all of Oklahoma’s 74 counties) – do demonstrate negative correlations between total county vote and Romney percentages. That is, even these near-unanimous Romney states tend to register lower GOP win percentages as their county sizes enlarges. The correlations:

Nebraska  -.412

Kentucky -.336

Kansas -.431

Oklahoma  -.350

But ok; is the very concern with county granularity a concession to investigative caprice, a because-they’re-there cheap analytical thrill? Maybe – but for students of the electoral process, are they any more capricious than those units of analysis we call states?

P.S. And check out Mark Newman’s electoral cartograms; they map county data, too.

One Response to “Obama-Romney: The County Count”


  1. Once More Unto the Breach | Yawper - December 4, 2012

    […] shows America to be a sea of red with blue islands of big cities and college towns (Romney won 77.7 percent of all counties).  The House of Representatives remains securely in Republican hands.   […]

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