Donald Trump Won Record 16 Bellwether Counties - And That Shows Why 2020 Election Was No Walkover For Biden

by Arihant Pawariya - Nov 18, 2020 06:29 PM +05:30 IST
Donald Trump Won Record 16 Bellwether Counties - And That Shows Why 2020 Election Was No Walkover For BidenUS President Donald Trump and Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden (right). (Illustration: Swarajya Magazine)  
  • Donald Trump 16 out of 39 counties which are considered significant bellwethers.

    This shows not only his strength but also the level of polarisation that took place in the 2020 elections.

Bellwether constituencies are those areas of population that vote in alignment with the winner of an election, usually for long periods of time. They deviate very rarely and are thus best predictor of the mood of the nation as a whole. Obviously, these areas aren’t considered to be ideologically in sync with any one party and vote based on issues.

In the United States of America, election analysts, political pundits and political parties usually focus on bellwether states, also referred to as the battleground states, for they can vote for either Republicans or Democrats depending on which party fields the better candidate. Out of 50 states, less than 10 are considered “battleground“. Given that the rest will anyway vote for either of the parties irrespective of the candidate, it is natural that these few battleground states suck all the attention and resources of everyone - from analysts to campaigns to media.

The winner of the Presidential election in the US is decided by electoral college which is basically a “winner takes all“ method. Every state is assigned a set of electors based on population and whoever gets more number of votes in the entire state gets all the electoral votes of that state.

Assume India had this system and Uttar Pradesh was assigned 80 electoral votes (equal to number of Lok Sabha constituencies in 2019), then the BJP will have won all 80 electoral votes because maximum number of people in UP voted for it. Instead, parties in India have to focus on contesting and winning each constituency because it’s a parliamentary system rather than the Presidential one.

To put it succinctly, in India, politicians have to win constituencies. In the US, they have to win states. So, the concept of bellwether constituencies is more apt for the former and that of bellwether states for the latter.

But even in the US, political analysts do keep track of key constituencies within the states - called counties. Though, winning a county in a presidential election is not of much use, there are many counties that have a history of voting with the winner of the election and have thus earned the moniker of “bellwether counties”. They may not be helpful in deciding the final results but can be a good indicator of which way the wind is blowing.

There are 39 significant bellwethers in the US. Since 1980, 27 of them have only deviated once, 11 of them twice and one county has always voted with the winner of the election.

Though all the pre-polls and media reports predicted a sweep for Joe Biden and a humiliating defeat for Donald Trump, it was one of the closest elections in the US history with the latter losing three battleground states he won last time by less than one per cent and one other by just 1.2 per cent votes. Additionally, Republicans are likely to retain control of Senate (the upper house of legislative branch) and end up with an increased tally of more than 10 seats in the lower house.

But a less analysed and interesting aspect of this election is Trump winning a historic number of 16 counties that were considered significant (Out of 39). This is probably the first and shows the level of polarisation in the US that even bellwether counties got divided in Trump and Biden camps, almost equally - Trump won 16, Biden won 23.

Below is a list of 10 counties that have always voted with the winner of the Presidential election but backed Trump this time around.

1. Essex County, Vermont

2. Hidalgo County, New Mexico

3. Juneau County, Wisconsin

4. Ottawa County, Ohio

5. Sawyer County, Wisconsin

6. Valencia County, New Mexico

7. Vigo County, Indiana

8. Washington County, Maine

9. Westmoreland County, Virginia

10. Wood County, Ohio

And here is a list of counties which had voted for a losing candidate only once since 1980 but voted for Trump this time.

1. Calhoun County, South Carolina (voted against Ronald Reagan in 1980)

2. Colleton County, South Carolina (voted against Reagan in 1980)

3. Coös County, New Hampshire (voted against George W. Bush in 2004)

4. Marshall County, South Dakota (voted against Bush Sr. in 1988)

5. Sargent County, North Dakota (voted against Bush Sr. in 1988)

6. Val Verde County, Texas (voted against Trump in 2016)

If the pollsters had surveyed only these places, they would’ve never bet against Trump the way they did.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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