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Another Note on Those Fast-Growing Counties

Last night, I wrote a post suggesting that Bush's gains in fast-growing counties in 2004 were less impressive than indicated in the Brownstein/Rainey article in the LA Times. But I forgot to mention what is perhaps the least impressive number mentioned in the article.

The article makes a bid deal about the fact that Dole in 1996 only carried the 100 fastest-growing counties by 450,000 votes, whereas Bush carried them this year by 1.7 million votes, a "dramatic" change.

Oh really? Well, let's see here. Dole lost to Clinton by 8.2 million votes. Bush beat Kerry this year by about 3.4 million votes. Thatís a net shift of 11.6 million votes to the GOP between the two elections. The Brownstein/Rainey data say that the fastest-growing counties contributed 1.25 million votes (1.7 million-450,000) to that shift or about 11 percent of total Republican gains.

I guess drama's in the eye of the beholder.


While I agree that these losses aren't as apocalyptic as Ron Brownstein wants them to be, I do think this is an interesting phenomenon for a couple of reasons. For one, my sister is square in the middle of this demographic and I've talked politics with her quite a bit, so I have a little bit more insight into where these folks are coming from than I do for most R demographics.

Without wading too far into the psychological depths, I think exurbian's political decisions are marked by the very limited amount of time they spend thinking about politics (they work and commute incredibly hard and the balance of their time is spent with their kids) and by their feelings about family. The structure of their lives has left them particularly susceptible to conservative rhetoric.

My guess would be that we have our own class that's growing just as quickly (if not more so) than the exurbians: the creative class. One problem is that we're not building anywhere new for our people to live. We're not building new small cities and we're not doing a good enough job communicating the attractiveness of the urban, diverse lifestyle.

I'm really interested in the interplay between the built environment and politics. The political consequences of sprawl seem to go far beyond anything I would've imagined previously. I think a Greenberg/Lakoff inspired agenda like this one...


has potential to reach these people, but it's going to be an uphill battle.

It might be interesting to look at these "top 100" counties and their contributions to Bush's vote gains relative to their total size. Your analysis says the counties growing at the fastest rates and counties growing by the greatest amounts contributed 17% and 21% respectively to Bush's total vote gain (I have no idea how many counties would be on both lists); it would be nice to know what percentage of the total electorate these groups represent. If they are proportional or roughly proportional that would support your statement that Bush's victory was more due to modest across-the-board gains. In either case, it seems like these counties are a growing demographic that tends to support Republican causes. That could be bad for Democrats unless their sympathies change as they approach the size of the largest counties.

I don't give a fXXX about the Democrats or Republicans anymore. This is the first election I have contributed to and what did Kerry do? hye gave up with out a wimper. What a looser! he deserves to loose if he can't fight for him self how can he be expected to fight for us? He was a lame canadate! 45 million dollars left! he had pleanty to fight against the swift boat fucxers but he didn't the Demorcratic kparty Kerry or any of them dont give a dam and why should I! I know you won't post this and I don't care I am deleting myself from your web site and news letter. We no longer have a two party system anymore The world belongs to the right and it looks like forever because the Demorcrats don't have the balls to fight dirty.

A careful reading of the Brownstein article suggests that Bush's margin in these counties was almost exactly what you would expect if they were following nationwide trends.

The population increase in these counties was 16% in three and a quarter years -- therefore 20% in four years. Let's say that the turnout increased from 2000 to 2004 by 17% more than the number of citizens -- we don't know the correct figure yet. (Most of these counties are relatively low in immigrants.) And since the article says Bush's margin in these counties was 26% in 2004, let's apply the 3.5% nationwide margin shift from 2000 and suppose it was 22.5% in 2000.

Multiply the 2000 margin of 1.06 million by these factors:
1.06 x (26/22.5) x 1.17 x 1.20 = 1.72
Exactly Bush's 2004 margin.

A question I would really like to know the answer to: How does the turnout in these counties compare to what would be predicted by combining the population increase and national rate of turnout increase?

I am somewhat skeptical of all the claims about the Republican turnout operation. An alternative hypothesis is that the Democrats turned out more voters, but some voters switched from Democratic to Republican. Careful study is needed to sort this out.