After last November's elections provided us with a trove of new elections data, I am finally able to revive my series on the political geography of the states that I first started last year. In it, I wanted to get a feel for how local Democrats perform in statewide or local elections and how that varies from Obama's 2012 performance. Given how counties are by far the easiest unit to find election data for in various states, I will be looking at how statewide candidates do on a state by state basis by county.
For every state, I've compiled all of the statewide, partisan D vs. R races since 2006 and averaged the results (excluding presidentials) to give you an idea of how a generic local Democrat will do on average, assuming a 50-50 race statewide so that even in heavily Democratic or Republican states you can see which areas are relatively more friendly to each party. Using this average Partisan Voter Index (PVI) where the state as a whole is Even, counties where the vote share is more Dem than the state are D+ and those that are more Republican are R+. Additionally, I've mapped out how Obama's 2012 map looks different than how an average Dem does who won or lost by the same margin. Finally, since the 2012 House of Representatives results are almost always presented by the district map, I've mapped out both the results themselves by county as well as by how much the House candidates ran ahead of or behind Obama in 2012.
All of the partisan percentages were calculated using two-party vote share only so as to have the most direct comparison between races. All of the data was taken directly from the relevant state's board of elections or equivalent office. You can find it for download by state here. (Please let me know if you find any errors)
Using the Census Bureau's division of the United States into four general regions, Part 1 covers the West, Part 2 the Midwest, Part 3 the Northeast, and Part 4 the South. Part 5 will look at the US as a whole, specifically the US House of Representatives election from 2012.
Part 1 includes: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (Alaska being excluded since it does not have counties or easily obtainable data other than statewide).
So follow me over the fold for the partisan average charts, a little analysis, and a whole lot of maps.
Arizona is a fairly conservative states, but it is open to voting for Democrats as it did in 2006 for governor and attorney general and nearly did last year for senate. While Maricopa County, home to the Phoenix metro area, is by far the largest in the state, Democrats don't actually have to win it to succeed statewide. Instead, they rely on the heavily Hispanic border counties, heavily Native American northeast of the state, Tuscon and urban Phoenix itself, and "Pinto Democrat" counties such as Greenlee that tend to vote Republican for president but Democratic downballot. Republicans rely on their strength among white rural voters and the white, upscale suburbs of the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area.
Compared to the average, Obama does better in the more minority heavy counties as well as those with large urban centers like Phoenix. On the other hand, he pretty universally does worse in the primarily white rural counties. This trend is fairly universal as a general rule, especially since many states like Arizona hold all of their downballot elections during midterms when groups like minority voters turnout at disproportionately lower rates.
In terms of House votes, all five of our Dems ran ahead of Obama while all 4 Republicans ran ahead of Romney. For the swing district Dems this is unsurprising given that they're fairly moderate, but you can also see the Romney/Dem discrepancy fairly clearly in rural, eastern Arizona.
California has been trending towards Democrats downballot for a long time now and thanks to unabated minority growth it should continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In fact, many of these pink and light orange counties go for Democrats with regularity, but in a generic 50-50 election in the state, such as Kamala Harris' nail-biter Attorney General Election in 2010, we see a map like this one. Democrats' absolutely dominate in the Bay Area of Norther California and the norcal coast in general. In addition, they can count on heavily minority Los Angeles County and recently on heavily Hispanic Imperial County as well. Republicans, on the other hand, do very well in parts of Southern California such as Orange County as well as the rural areas of inland California, though thanks to minority growth the Central Valley is trending towards Dems.
Compared with the presidential map, there is little difference in performance by county in Southern California and most of the Bay Area in particular, though Obama certainly overperformed in the more minority heavy parts of Southern California such as south-central L.A. or Anaheim in Orange County. The largest divergence is by far in inland Northern California, where Obama does much worse than the typical Dem winning 60% of the vote such as Dianne Feinstein.
Be careful here, as California's odd quirk of the top two primary, which sends the 1st and 2nd place plurality winners into the general election regardless of party, resulted in several contests in which two Democrats or two Republicans were the only House Candidates on the ballot. This is particularly problematic when looking at Southern California and the eastern Bay Area, but there's really no solution when trying to present the data by county as opposed to the congressional districts.
Still, you can pretty clearly see the power of incumbency if you look carefully enough as incumbents outperformed their presidential nominee in particular along the entire coast and much of Southern California. Of particular note is how the two open seats in northeastern California and and the southern Central Valley show how ticket splitting and candidate quality matter. In the former, the underfunded Dem still ran ahead of Obama, while in the latter, a terrible candidate ran significantly behind.
This Colorado map looks fairly similar to the 2012 election outcome in that it demonstrates the Democratic path to victory lies in forming what is referred to as "the C"; that incomplete ring of counties stretching from Denver to Boulder, the Ski Counties of the western slope, and down to the heavily Hispanic counties in southern Colorado home to cities like Pueblo. Republican strength lies in the further suburbs of Denver in places like Douglas County and heavily Republican, but slowly Dem trending Colorado Springs, as well as the sparsely populated but ultra-red counties in the far east and west of the state. The swing regions are the three counties surrounding Denver as well as places like Larimer County, home to Fort Collins.
Unlike in 2008 when Obama overperformed fairly significantly in the state's urban areas, here the divergence is less pronounced with him performing about as expected in the top and left part of "the C." However, Obama unsurprisingly underperformed a good deal in the rural far east and west of the state, but surprisingly underperformed in the heavily Hispanic counties in the south of the state. Without being able to look at the precinct level, it's impossible to say exactly why this happened in counties such as Pueblo and whether it was a result of the Hispanics there not being eligible to vote or whether Obama simply underperformed so much in those counties' rural areas that it overwhelmed his strength among urban minorities.
In terms of the House vote, Democrats would have won the state's popular vote had we contested the heavily Republican 5th district in the center of the state and/or Dem turned Indie Kathy Polhemus not run a spoiler campaign in the 6th district. Surprising to me was that Sal Pace in the 3rd district, rather than overperforming Obama actually lagged behind him despite local Democrats generally doing better than Obama in western Colorado. Unsurprisingly, Dems tended to run behind the president in the suburban counties around Denver.
There isn't really much to present with Hawaii since it only has 4 true counties, Obama massively overperformed how Democrats do in open seats, and it's a state that tends to give incumbents huge wins. The state is already very heavily Democratic, in fact Democrats control 24 of the state's 25 state senate districts. However, Democrats tend to exceed their statewide margin in Kauai, Maui, and the big island of Hawaii while almost always running behind it in Honolulu.
In terms of the House vote, Tulsi Gabbard ran significantly ahead of the president which was completely unsurprising given her opponent was a homeless man. On the other hand, Colleen Hanabusa underperformed Obama by the most of any incumbent in the nation thanks to facing Hawaii Republicans strongest possible candidate in former Rep. Charles Djou and Obama's native son boost. Since Honolulu County (the island of O'ahu) was split between the two districts, this is somewhat obscured.
Idaho is one of the most conservative and Republican friendly states in the nation, but once in a blue moon it will elect a Democrat or at least flirt with one. Democrats tend to do best in the northern panhandle which was once a bastion of Dem strength thanks to the logging industry. Additionally, they do well in the few large urban areas like Boise and Ski Resort counties such as Blaine. Republicans tend to dominate the more heavily Mormon areas in the southeast of the state as well as the suburbs/cities west of Boise.
Given how Idaho is the most Mormon heavy state after Utah, it should be totally unsurprising that Romney ran very strongly there, particularly in the Mormon dominated southeast. Obama held up much better in Dem trending and growing Boise.
Characteristic of a heavily Republican state, the two House incumbents absolutely destroyed their token Democratic opposition, but you can clearly see ticket splitting among the Mormon dominated southeast as well as the more extraction-industry based panhandle.
Democrats actually have done very well at winning statewide offices in Montana recently, having won every single one other than US House and Attorney General in last year's election. Democrats tend to rely on the state's urban areas as well as the counties with Native American reservations, while Republicans tend to rack up huge margins in the very rural counties, particularly in eastern Montana.
Obama lost considerable ground in Montana compared to his near win in 2008, but he held up much better in the state's cities, Native American reservations, and Western Montana in general than he did in the East and rural areas in particular.
We can see this Obama/local Dem divergence fairly clearly when looking at the state's two elections for Congress, the House election where our candidate ran slightly ahead of Obama statewide but varying by county, and our senate election where incumbent senator Jon Tester ran significantly ahead of Obama in every single county, partly thanks to a Libertarian spoiler. Unsurprisingly, the Dem base in the state is again the urban areas and Native American reservations, though both Tester and our House nominee Gillan ran ahead of Obama by more in the more rural counties.
The Democratic path to victory in Nevada lies in winning just one county, but don't be fooled, Clark County comprises the overwhelming majority of the state. However, Dems still have to keep the Republican margins down in Washoe County, home to Reno, and Carson City if not hope to win them outright as Obama did in 2008. Republicans tend to dominate the sparsely populated rural areas of the state as well as some of the whiter Las Vegas suburbs in Clark County.
Obama proved quite resilient in Nevada despite it having one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation and Las Vagas being one of the cities worst hit by the housing bubble. In fact, he held up much better there thanks to its growing minority population than he did in the largely white rural counties. Unlike 2008, Obama performed about as expected and lagged behind in Carson City, which he had won in 2008 for the first time since Lyndon Johnson did in 1964, but lost last year.
Our house candidates in Nevada only carried Clark County since our 2nd district (Reno) nominee was a total some dude. Unfortunately 3rd district nominee and former state assembly speaker John Oceguera proved to be a bit of a dud and when looking at the counties, Obama ran ahead of the house candidates in every single county.
Democrats tend to dominate New Mexico's elections in anything other than a 2010 style wave. Their path to victory relies on the state's large and growing minority population, in particular the heavily Hispanic areas of North-Central New Mexico and the large Native American population in northwestern New Mexico. Additionally, Democrats tend to do very well in cities such as Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Republicans do best in the more rural areas of southern and eastern New Mexico as well as the heavily white suburbs of northern and eastern Albuquerque.
With Obama's resilience among minority voters, it is unsurprising that he does comparatively better in the heavily Hispanic and Native American counties, while he underperforms fairly significantly in the whiter areas of the state, particularly in southeastern New Mexico which shares some cultural similarities with the ultra-Republican Texas Panhandle that it borders.
Looking at the two House maps you can clearly see the effect of incumbency. Democrats ran ahead of Obama in all but one county in the two districts we won while hard right Republican Steve Pearce ran significantly ahead of Romney in every single county in his district, even carrying some of the same counties that Obama won.
Oregon is a solidly Democratic state, even if Democrats don't always win by huge margins, Republicans haven't won a statewide election there since 2002. The Democratic path to victory relies on racking up massive margins in Portland as well as college towns like Eugene. Democrats increasingly do well in the Portland suburb counties of Washington and Clackamas which are the main battleground counties in the state. Republicans have their base in rural eastern and southern Oregon and are doing increasingly better along the southern coast.
Oregon was completely uncontested in the presidential election, but unsurprisingly Obama holds up best in the state's cities and suburban areas while performing worse than average in the more rural counties.
Even better than New Mexico, the House election in Oregon demonstrates just how much of an advantage incumbents have. Every single county with a Democratic incumbent saw that Representative win with a greater margin than Obama while every single county contained in Republicans sole district saw popular Rep. Greg Walden run significantly ahead of Romney and even carry Hood River County while Obama won over 60% of the vote there. Going forward, all 5 of the state's congress members should be safe even during a wave election.
Utah is one of the most heavily Republican states in the nation and was Romney's best state thanks to its population being majority Mormon. Howver, there are patches of blue such as Salt Lake City proper which is actually strongly Democratic. In addition to Salt Lake City and some of its suburbs, Democrats actually win places with ski resorts like Summit County and typically hold their loss margins down in the state's southeast.
Obama underperformed nearly everywhere in Utah thanks to Romney's native son boost, but that underperformance wasn't the same everywhere. Obama held up much better in southeastern Utah and the Dem base in Salt Lake City while lagging the most in the states dark red counties in the center of the state (and most likely its redder suburbs in Salt Lake County).
As should be completely unsurprising, our mormon US House candidates ran significantly ahead of Obama with the state's lone Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson running an incredible 19% ahead of Obama with nearly 1 in 3 Romney voters splitting their ticket for him. Even our sacrificial lamb candidates ran significantly ahead of Obama though, illustrating just how much of Romney's margin was due to his native son effect.
Like its neighbor Oregon, Washington state has fairly similar political preferences. Democrats do best in the state's largest city of Seattle and tend to do very well in all of the counties west of the Cascade Mountain range. Republicans to best in the more rural and agriculture based counties east of the Cascades as well as heavily rural Lewis county in the state's southwest. Republicans also do fairly well in some of the more upscale Seattle suburbs in eastern King County and are increasingly doing better in the southwest of the state, home to some of Portland's suburbs in Clark County.
Again similar to Oregon, Obama held up best in Seattle and the more ruban areas around the Puget Sound. He did comparatively worse in the more rural areas of southern and eastern Washington though he dropped by a fairly surprising amount in counties such as Clark, in contrast to Portland's other suburban counties.
Demonstrating the power of incumbency, every county completely contained in a district represented by a Democratic incumbent saw that county go Democratic while the same was true for the counties represented by a Republican incumbent. However, the House Democratic ticket generally ran behind Obama, particularly in the state's east and south as well as the eastern King County suburbs represented by former King County sheriff Rep. Dave Reichert. On the other hand, Democrats ran ahead of Obama in a few of the Sound counties, but generally matched his performance.
The final state we get to is Wyoming, which is likely the most Republican state in the nation after Utah. Though it actually elected a Democratic governor in 2006, Republicans have won every other statewide election since and usually by commanding margins, thus the map we see above generally never happens except in rare cases like the nail-biter 2006 House Race. Democrats do comparatively better in the south and center of the state as well as Teton County, the lone one won by Obama, in the northwest. Similar to Montana and Colorado, Republicans do best in the state's east where the Great Plains meet the Rockies.
Wyoming has a fairly sizable Mormon population, though not as large as Utah or Idaho. As such Obama underperforms considerably in the southwest which borders Utah but holds up well in the state's northwest and southeast and held on to win Teton county again by a fairly decent margin.
Unlike in 2006 and 2008, the House election last year was an absolute rout for incumbent Rep. Cynthia Lummis over her token challenger, however even she couldn't win Teton County thanks to Obama's coattails. Still, she did significantly better than Romney in the northwest and southeast of the state, while doing about the same in the more Mormon southwest.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this (somewhat lengthy) first installment of the series and next week should hopefully see the next part on the states of the Midwest and Great Plains.