The 2014 election shows a deep geographical divide between Democrats and Republicans, turning primarily on population density, not urban and rural status. And most American voters live in counties where one party won by a landslide.
Democrats won less than one in five counties in the November election of all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representative.
And Democrats did best in the most densely populated counties. (Density is measured as people per square mile.) Even in large metro areas, Democrats generally won the counties where people lived close together and lost the counties with lower levels of density.
The House vote in November showed an American electorate divided geographically and clustered into places that were overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. Here are some highlights of a Daily Yonder analysis of the House vote:
In an earlier Daily Yonder article, we saw how in the recent House race Democrats gained a majority only in the nation’s largest metro areas, made up of a million or more people. What we see in this set of numbers is how Democrats and Republicans live in two different worlds based on population density.
This is true even in the counties located in the nation’s largest urban centers, those with a million people or more. In big-city counties won by Democrats, the population density was 3,369 people per square mile. In the major metropolitan counties that voted Republican, density was 449 people per square mile.
Clearly, Democrats are concentrated in city centers while Republicans dominate in the more loosely populated suburbs and exurbs.
This pattern held in both big and small cities. In metro areas of between 250,000 and one million people, the density in Democratic counties was about twice that of Republican counties.
But the pattern does not hold in rural America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has six categories of rural counties, based on population size. Republicans won 85 percent of these counties. But there was essentially no difference in density between Republican and Democratic counties in rural America.
The map above shows how every county voted in November’s House election. If you click on the map it goes live and you can then click on your county to get detailed information.
Dark red shows rural counties that voted Republican. Dark blue are rural counties that voted Democratic. Light red areas are urban counties that voted Republican. Light blue counties voted Democratic and are in urban areas.
The vote totals are for House contests in the county. If a county was split among three congressional districts, Republican and Democratic votes are totaled. You may find that your county has no Republican or Democratic votes. That’s because candidates ran unopposed, or because the opposition ran as an Independent or Libertarian or Green.
We included the Department of Agriculture’s Rural-Urban Continuum Code, or RUCC. The USDA sorted all counties (there are 3,143) along a continuum, from most urban to most rural. The USDA’s demographers came up with nine categories. One through three are urban counties. Half the votes nationally are in category one, cities of a million or more.
Categories four through nine are rural counties — the higher the number the more rural the county. For a full explanation of RUCC, go here.
We also included the percent of the Republican vote. (That percentage included only Democratic and Republican votes.) And we have the population density, which is figured by dividing the number of people into the total square miles in the county. The national average for density by county is 261 people per square mile.
Have fun with the map. And, remember, the geographic story of politics in this country isn’t rural versus urban, it’s density. The closer people live together, the more likely that place is to being Democratic.
This is a lifestyle choice, clearly captured in the chart below produced by the Pew Research Center. Pew asked people if they would be willing to accept living in a smaller place if it meant being closer to shops and neighbors. Or, Pew asked, would people rather live farther away from stores and schools if it meant they could live in a larger house.
Living arrangements followed partisan politics. Democrats wanted to live in more dense areas. Republicans wanted to live in more loosely settled regions. The more staunch the politics, the stronger people felt about this issue.