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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Spatial Distribution of Bush’s Vote Gains

Between 2000 and 2004, there was a net shift of about 4 million votes in Bush’s direction. On November 9, I posted a brief analysis of where Bush’s vote gains came from by state. I now have had a chance to conduct some analysis of the county-level results from 2004 and they provide some very intriguing insights into the spatial distribution of Bush’s vote gains. These insights challenge the conventional wisdom about where Bush’s vote gains came from and appear to contradict the exit poll’s findings from this year about the spatial distribution of Bush’s gains.
First, my analysis finds that only about a quarter of Bush’s net vote gains from 2000 to 2004 came from the nation’s “ideopolises” (see this piece in Blueprint magazine for an explanation of the term) and three-quarters–the vast majority–came from less technically advanced metro areas and from rural areas.
Second, my analysis shows that Bush made gains across the board (sometimes less, sometimes more than the conventional wisdom has indicated) when you examine counties sorted into 10 categories, going from most urban to most rural. (This analysis uses the rural-urban continuum codes developed by Calvin Beale of the USDA’s Economic Research Service.)
Starting with the most urban counties, those that are central counties of large (1 million or more) metro areas, Bush improved his vote margin by 2.4 percentage points (i.e., he narrowed his margin of loss to about 55-44). His gains in these areas accounted for about 19 percent of his total net vote gain.
In fringe or exurban counties of these large metro areas, Bush improved his winning margin by 6.7 points (to 62-38). But because these exurban areas contain far fewer people than the central counties, Bush received only 13 percent of his vote gains from these counties.
More important to Bush’s vote gains were medium-sized metro areas (250,000 to a million in population), where he improved his winning margin by 3.5 points (about the national average). But because of the large number of people in medium-sized metro areas, Bush received over a quarter (26 percent) of his net vote gain from these counties.
In small metro areas (less than 250,000 population), Bush improved his margin by 2.4 points and received about 8 percent of his net vote gain.
Turning to nonmetro counties, which are typically considered “rural” and which have urban concentrations that range from a high of 50,000 a low of under 2,500, Bush did the best in nonmetro counties that are adjacent to a metro area and have an urban population of between 2,500 and 20,000. In these counties, he improved his margin by 6.4 points and received 15 percent of his overall net vote gain.
In the other five types of rural counties (see the rural-urban continuum codes cited above), Bush improved his margin by from 2.2 to 4.2 points and–putting all these other rural counties together–received 18 percent of his net vote gain.
How do these findings match up with the exit poll findings on Bush’s performance in different types of areas? Not very well at all.
Consider this: the exit polls say that Bush’s margin was compressed both in their “rural areas” category (shrinking by 3 points) and in their other nonmetro category, “cities and towns, 10,000 to 50,000 population” (shrinking by an astonishing 19 points, from a 21 point to a 2 point margin).
It’s very hard to square this with the findings cited above on Bush’s gains in all categories of nonmetro counties, from the most rural to the least.
Or consider this: the exit polls say that Bush improved his margin by an incredible 24 points (going from a 71-26 deficit to 60-39) in “cities of over 500,000” population and improved by an almost as stunning 17 points (going from a 57-40 deficit to dead-even) in “cities and towns, 50,000 to 500,000 in population”. But a glance at the findings above for the different metro categories fails to find anything even remotely consistent with these shifts.
While the exit polls use different categories (cities of different sizes, suburbs, etc.) that are not county-based, it would take a hell of a story to reconcile these findings by pointing to the differences between categories.
So put a big question mark by those exit poll spatial findings. They just don’t square with analysis of the actual votes that were cast and where Bush made his gains.
Much more of this county-based analysis to come! I’m just getting started and will shortly be taking a look at some of the more interesting states in ’04 election.

7 comments on “The Spatial Distribution of Bush’s Vote Gains

  1. Mittons on

    Can’t come out of the closet periodically and expect the “media” to get our message out. What we need is our own Karl Rove, Fox network, and a real Democratic candidate. Run a democrat as a Republican, and the real Republican will win every time. Republicans have defined “liberal” as bad, and Democrats let them get away with it.

  2. Gerald on

    Re: Posting by Big Dog. I read the article. Hey Ruy, would you mind taking a look at this? If this is true, in any way, we don’t have an ‘accidental president’ we have a coup.


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