Remember this? I divided the counties up by how much their voter rolls had grown or shrunk since 2012, then used the 2016 turnout levels and 2018 results to project final numbers for the Presidential election in 2020. Now that we have those numbers, how did my little toy do? Let’s take a look.
A couple of things to acknowledge first. The most up to date voter registration numbers show that the group of counties that looked to have lost voters since 2012 have actually gained them, at least in the aggregate. Second, the actual turnout we got so far exceeded past numbers that we literally couldn’t have nailed this, at least not at a quantitative level. So with that in mind, let’s move forward.
We start with the counties that had seen growth of at least 10K voters on their rolls since 2012. There were 33 of these. Here are the numbers I had in my initial review, updated to include what happened this year.
Romney 3,270,387 Obama 2,792,800 Romney 53.9% Obama 46.1% Romney + 477,587 Trump 3,288,107 Clinton 3,394,436 Trump 49.2% Clinton 50.8% Trump - 106,329 Cruz 3,022,932 Beto 3,585,385 Cruz 45.7% Beto 54.3% Cruz - 562,453 Trump 4,119,402 Biden 4,579,144 Trump 47.4% Biden 52.6% Trump - 459,742 Year Total voters Total votes Turnout ========================================== 2012 10,442,191 6,157,687 59.0% 2016 11,760,590 7,029,306 59.8% 2018 12,403,704 6,662,143 53.7% 2020 13,296,048 8,765,774 65.9%
When I did the original post, there were 12,930,451 registered voters in these 33 counties. As you can see, and will see for the other groups, that increased between August and November, by quite a bit. As you can see, Trump did considerably worse than he had in 2016 with these counties, but better than Ted Cruz did in 2018. That says it all about why this race wasn’t as close as the Beto-Cruz race in 2018. My projection had assumed 2016-level turnout, but we obviously got more than that. Here’s what I had projected originally, and what we would have gotten if the 2020 results had been like the 2018 results from a partisan perspective:
Trump 3,533,711 Biden 4,198,699 Trump - 664,988 Trump 3,975,236 Biden 4,723,310 Trump - 748,074
Fair to say we missed the mark. We’ll see how much of a difference that would have made later. Now let’s look at the biggest group of counties, the 148 counties that gained some number of voters, from one to 9,999. Again, here are my projections, with the updated voter registration number:
Romney 1,117,383 Obama 415,647 Romney 72.9% Obama 27.1% Romney + 701,736 Trump 1,209,121 Clinton 393,004 Trump 75.5% Clinton 24.5% Trump + 816,117 Cruz 1,075,232 Beto 381,010 Cruz 73.8% 26.2% Cruz + 694,222 Trump 1,496,148 Biden 501,234 Trump 74.0% Biden 26.0% Trump + 994,914 Year Total voters Total votes Turnout ========================================== 2012 2,686,872 1,551,613 57.7% 2016 2,829,110 1,653,858 58.5% 2018 2,884,466 1,466,446 50.8% 2020 3,112,474 2,022,490 65.0%
As discussed, there’s a whole lot of strong red counties in here – of the 148 counties in this group, Beto carried ten of them. They had 2,929,965 voters as of August. What had been my projection, and how’d it go here?
Trump 1,264,954 Biden 449,076 Trump + 815,878 Trump 1,496,148 Biden 501,234 Trump + 994,914
The margin is wider due to the higher turnout, but Biden actually did a little better by percentage than Clinton did, and was right in line with Beto. This is obviously an area of great need for improvement going forward, but the projection was more or less right on target, at least from a partisan performance perspective. But as you can see, even with the more optimistic projection for Biden, he’s already in the hole. Like I said, this is an area of urgent need for improvement going forward.
Now on to the last group, the 73 counties that had lost voters from 2012, at least going by the August numbers. As you can see, that turned out not to be fully true:
Romney 182,073 Obama 99,677 Romney 64.6% Obama 35.4% Romney + 82,396 Trump 187,819 Clinton 90,428 Trump 67.5% Clinton 32.5% Trump + 97,391 Cruz 162,389 Beto 79,237 Cruz 67.2% Beto 32.8% Cruz + 83,152 Trump 226,104 Biden 105,490 Trump 68.2% Biden 31.8% Trump + 120,514 Year Total voters Total votes Turnout ========================================== 2012 517,163 284,551 55.0% 2016 511,387 286,062 55.9% 2018 505,087 243,066 48.1% 2020 546,997 335,110 61.2%
As you can see, that decline in registrations has reversed, quite dramatically. I didn’t check each individual county – it seems likely that some of them are still at a net negative – but overall they are no longer in decline. Good for them. As you can also see, Biden performed a little worse than Clinton and Beto, but close enough for these purposes. Let’s compare the projection to the reality:
Trump 187,587 Biden 91,561 Trump + 96,026 Trump 226,104 Biden 105,490 Trump + 120,514
Put the best-case scenario from the first group with what we got in the last two, and we could have had this:
Trump 5,697,488 Biden 5,330,034 Trump 51.67% Biden 48.33%
Which is pretty close to what I had projected originally, just with a lot more voters now. The actual final result is 52.18% to 46.39%, so I’d say my method came closer to the real result than most of the polls did. Clearly, I missed my calling.
All this was done as an exercise in frivolity – as I said at the time, I made all kinds of assumptions in making this projection, and the main one about turnout level was way wrong. The point of this, I think, is to show that while Dems have indeed improved greatly in performance in the biggest counties, they haven’t done as well everywhere else, and while the marginal difference from Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 and Biden 2020 isn’t much, the overall direction is wrong (even as Biden improved somewhat on the middle group over Clinton), and we’re going to have a real problem making further progress if we can’t figure out a way to improve our performance in these smaller counties. There is room to grow in the big and growing counties – these include some fast-growing and very red places like Montgomery and Comal, for instance – but we’re going to reach diminishing marginal growth soon, if we’re not already there. We need to step it up everywhere else. I’ll be returning to this theme as we go forward. Let me know what you think.