Red Counties, Blue Counties and Occupied Counties

by Kieran Healy on November 4, 2004

Via “Pandagon”: I see that Michelle Malkin “smugly presents us”: with a map (from “USA Today”: showing the apparently overwhelming predominance of Bush-supporting counties in the United States. That’s the top panel in the figure below. Looks like the GOP is overwhelmingly dominant, eh? Well, no, of course. It takes about ten seconds on Google to find the bottom panel of the figure, which shows you about how many people live in each county. The comparison is instructive. Of course, there are still a bunch of well-populated areas that Bush carried, but we know that already because, you know, he won the election.

Note also that the USA Today map has quite a few missing observations, shaded in grey, presumably because the final results weren’t available when they drew the map. Missing observations seem predominantly to be counties with large urban populations. Most of these (like Cook County, IL, and Palm Beach County, FL!) should probably be colored blue, as a comparison with the “2000 results”: shows. CT readers are probably too sensible to fall for invidious comparisons like this to begin with, but it does seem that the likes of Michelle Malkin think that complete dominance of the Prairie Dog and cowpat vote is what really matters. She should check to see how “Leroy Chiao”: voted — maybe the GOP can claim the Solar System vote, too.

*Update*: Thanks to some pointers in the comments, below the fold I’ve included two other figures. The first is a cartogram from the New York Times that scales the states by their electoral college votes, and the section is a terrific map from “Robert Vanderbei”: that gives a continuous rather than a binary representation of the county vote data, allowing us to see that “purple America” is more common than red or blue America.

*New York Times Cartogram of Electoral College Votes.*

*Robert Vanderbei’s “Purple America” Vote Data Map.*

A bigger version is “available here”: and an “even bigger version”: can be had from Robert’s website.



Chance the Gardener 11.04.04 at 4:11 pm

See that little dot of blue in the middle of Ohio?

That’s where my house is.

Yes, my life sucks right now.


des von bladet 11.04.04 at 4:11 pm

You get the same effect here in Airstrip One: constituencies are fine-grained enough and the urban/rural divide marked enough that there’s a vast sea of Evil Tory Rightist Blue with tiny pockets of Righteous But Less Rightiste Labour Red.

You know those biology textbook pictures that rescale a body according to sensitivity to touch (modulo the rude bits, of course, for they are rude!). A such rescaling of these demographically distortional political mappings might be in order, if anyone knows how.


Matthew Yglesias 11.04.04 at 4:22 pm

I notice that they’ve colored-in a very large state park in Maine as a red county. Odd.


Russell Arben Fox 11.04.04 at 4:23 pm

Looking at these maps just makes me think of the South that Might Have Been. What’s the blue I see? Why, it’s Memphis, St. Louis, Birmingham, Natchez, Little Rock, Texarkana, Charleston, Durham, and many more, including my own county in northeast Arkansas. How hard would it be for the Democrats to run a candidate with a sensitive enough religious and economic agenda (an absolute no to partial-birth abortion, perhaps?) that it would only put off, say, 30% of the white Christians in the counties surrounding these cities, as opposed to 50% of them? (Progressives can’t get that one-third, but we don’t need to lose half.) You’d see a lot more blue, that’s what you’d see. You might even see Kerry in the White House. To quote Henry Higgins: damn, damn, damn, damn, damn.


Chris W 11.04.04 at 4:24 pm

It’s also worth noting that a whole bunch of those gray areas are not really gray. Just glancing at the map I see Cook County (aka Chicago) Broward, Miami-Dade, an just about all of Maine are all grey.

I’d love to see a version of this map with all the counties sized proportionally to their populations. Cook County, for example, would be bigger than Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas combined.


Keith M Ellis 11.04.04 at 4:25 pm

The county map is good at demonstrating that the real divide is urban/rural assuming you know where the urban areas are. What would be good would be a county map where the size of the counties corresponds to population. Then you’d see red and blue being much closer to being equal in area.


Dubious 11.04.04 at 4:27 pm

Des von Bladet: I like the idea of a map scaled to population size. I know there was an world atlas that used that kind of thing… the name slips my mind.

Other than that, I heartily second the idiocy and sophistry of the first map. Weird to note than many Democratic areas are still gray (undecided?)


KCinDC 11.04.04 at 4:27 pm

Des: Doing it by county might be hard, but has the appropriately adjusted “cartogram” by state.


aelph 11.04.04 at 4:35 pm

See that little dot of blue in the middle of Ohio?

That’s where my house is.

You have my sympathies, as that blue dot in the center of Indiana (which just happens to be Indianapolis) is where I live.

This just highlights that it’s not a blue/red *state* split, it’s a blue/red *county* split, and which is which is strongly correlated with urban/rural.


Ray 11.04.04 at 4:38 pm

Would a Democratic candidate promise to appoint Supreme Court judges that would ban partial-birth abortions? Would fundies believe him? Would the party activists accept that kind of threat to Roe vs Wade?


jonathan 11.04.04 at 4:48 pm

The New York Times “electoral vote” map ( I found to be a most useful graphical representation of the population impacts. A agree a county-by-county population-scaled representation is more than overdue.


joe 11.04.04 at 4:57 pm

I’d like to see a comparison of the GDP of the blue counties v. the GDP of the red counties. My bet is that the GDP of the blue counties would easily double the GDP of the red counties. Then I’d ask red types – with the benefit of all that land, why are you guys such slackers?


koreyel 11.04.04 at 5:06 pm

Rural and Urban divide sure enough.

But I really want to see third, fourth, and fifth overlays:

1) Poverty and Wealth

2) Non HS graduates and HS graduates.

3) Fat and Fit

That way I can support my new phrase “The Republican Poor” with my new politics: “No government help for the Republican poor.”

To hell with government charity, and to hell with personal charity.

These people have shown themselves unfit for national health care service. They don’t deserve its protection. And now… I don’t want to share the burder of it’s cost with them. Fuck ’em. And I say that with neo-republican relish.

Truly it’s official: I’ve got a mandate to regard this culture as a dog eat dog affair. It’s me first, me second, and me third. Which is to say: I don’t give a damn about rural america, and will do everything I can to make sure none of my wealth gets transferred to ease their poverty, their ignorance, and their obesity.

They deserve to get just the sort of country they voted for. And I am going to give it to them…


Rob 11.04.04 at 5:09 pm

There has always been a very strong urban versus rural current in the US. I think the difference this time is that the dominant parties only really represnt urban or rural areas.


George 11.04.04 at 5:10 pm

What’s with that swatch of South Texas? Seems to be the largest area that bucks the urban/rural trend. (North New Mexico is blue too, but that’s where Santa Fe and Taos are.)


Michael Kremer 11.04.04 at 5:11 pm

The “Purple America” maps at and are worth looking at, also comparing to each other. I leave it to others to draw conclusions.


kevin. 11.04.04 at 5:14 pm

It might be more informative to compare the “lights seen from space” map alongside the county-wide red/blue map. The population centers don’t quite do the justice because the scale is 5-fold for color changes.


Paul 11.04.04 at 5:22 pm

Hey, wow. South Carolina’s bluer than I expected. And that gray spot by the coast–that’s Charleston, blue as hell. That Lowcountry/Upcountry division has existed for 200 years.


jim in austin 11.04.04 at 5:34 pm

“What’s with that swatch of South Texas?”

My guess would be snowbirds, just like Florida. And I’m on that tiny blue dot directly to the north. It has been successfully gerrymandered into the surrounding sea of red…


Keith M Ellis 11.04.04 at 5:38 pm

South Texas is the border country and is predominately hispanic. And there’s cities (small to medium cities) there as well.

Bernalillo county (Albuquerque) isn’t colored blue on the map, and it should be. The rural NM counties which are blue are almost all (or are all) hispanic-majority counties.

Santa Fe isn’t, any more, by the way (hispanic majority) I don’t think. It’s solid blue tone comes as much from liberal whites as hispanic Dems.

And take a look at Arizona. Arizona’s long been solidly Republican, but there was talk that it might actually be in play this election. It wasn’t, but it’s getting close.

In the west a common theme for those blue non- or not-as-urban counties is a growing hispanic population. This is part of the basis for Ruy Texiera’s and John Judis argument for an “emerging democratic majority”.

That is, as long as the hispanics stick with the Democratic party. Note that Bush actually made some inroads this election with the Texas hispanics. BushCo expected to do much better—their assumption is that hispanics, many/most being devout or semi-devout Catholics and “strong family values” would make a nice fit with the GOP. The only problem is that while hispanics are in many ways culturally conservatice, they’re far from convinced that the GOP is their friend. And rightly so.

But it would be a mistake to assume that it’s not possible for the GOP to woo them. The same argument could have been (and was) made about poor southern white people. The GOP traditionally was no friend of theirs. Not they’re bosom buddies.

I think that if the Dems can avoid losing hispanics to the GOP, then the long-term prediction of Texeira and Co. will come true. The very quickly growing hispanic population in the west will eventually eliminate the Dems reliance on at least a limited appeal to the southern states, which we’ve long lost.


Keith M Ellis 11.04.04 at 5:44 pm

Oh, a couple of things. One, I wrote: “In the west a common theme for those blue non- or not-as-urban counties is a growing hispanic population.” I should be clear that this is also true for some of the urban counties in the west that have switched from red to blue over the last few elections.

It’s pretty weird that “Jim in Austin” would think that the Rio Grande valley blue counties was due to “snowbirds”. No, it’s due to hispanic majority populations in border communities. But what’s weird and revealing—and I say this as someone who just moved from Austin after living there for eight years—is that he wouldn’t know this. But, you see, in Texas, hipanics are invisible. Most of Texas doesn’t give a second thought to the Rio Grande valley, most have never been there.


TomF 11.04.04 at 5:52 pm has the appropriately adjusted “cartogram” by state.

Note that this map is weighted by electoral votes, which (rightly or wrongly) skews favorably less populous states. An actual population map is an even more striking contrast.


Matt McGrattan 11.04.04 at 5:52 pm

The Poor Man linked to this: which has some pretty funny thoughts on the Urban/Rural, Red/Blue divide.


Matthew 11.04.04 at 5:55 pm

There’s another cartogram by state of the 2000/1996/1992 election, though it’s been coloured for a British audience.


Matthew 11.04.04 at 6:01 pm

And by Congressional district (though not labelled)


Matthew 11.04.04 at 6:02 pm

And the US by Congressional district (though not labelled)


KCinDC 11.04.04 at 6:09 pm

TomF: Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right that the differences should be even greater when using population rather than electoral votes. This article (PDF) has some different population cartograms of the US (and Europe), but not color-coded by election results.


norbizness 11.04.04 at 6:09 pm

See that little blue island in the middle of Texas? Say hello to the People’s Republic of Austin!

Oklahoma may whip our asses every year in football, but at least we aren’t solid red.


Hogan 11.04.04 at 6:27 pm

One acre, one vote–it’s the Republican way.


me2i81 11.04.04 at 6:32 pm

They deserve to get just the sort of country they voted for. And I am going to give it to them…

Unfortunately you (and I) are going to pay for the uninsured “red-state” folks sooner or later when they show up at the ER with advanced stages of illnesses that could have been cured or managed much more cheaply at a doctor’s office…


George 11.04.04 at 6:44 pm

Thanks Keith. That all sounds right.

I sincerely hope that Bush now takes his second opportunity to pursue real immigration reform. Between him and Arnold, the GOP has a real chance to make substantial gains in the Latino community, which will only get more influential.

As an American and a Californian, I’d like to see either party do this. But as a former Republican and current disgusted independent who’d like to see the GOP get softer and more Western, I’d rather the Republicans do it.


George 11.04.04 at 6:48 pm

PS: somebody show that purple map to Chris Bertram.


daniel 11.04.04 at 6:53 pm

If I recall correctly, one of the reasons why the data for Maine isn’t there is because Maine reports election results by township not county, so it takes some work to do the conversion.

Those counties in the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley are among the counties that vote most consistently for one party than any others in the country (since at least the 1968 elections).

Also, another set of UCSB population/population density cartograms for the 2000 elections is here:

While it’s 2000 data, it should give a taste for 2004.

My own county-level analysis of spatial autocorrelation in recent US presidential elections:

If anybody wants the data, just drop me a line.


Uncle Kvetch 11.04.04 at 7:00 pm

Does “rural/urban” really work as a heuristic when over 50% of the population is neither? Where do suburbanites fit into this schema?


abb1 11.04.04 at 7:10 pm

Yes, too many hicks. Too few nice livable cities. We all know that.

…will do everything I can to make sure none of my wealth gets transferred to ease their poverty…

They don’t necessarly want your money – that’s the problem. They’d rather have their ‘morals’ than your money. They aren’t going to love you because of your sending them your money. They’re principled folks.


q 11.04.04 at 7:17 pm

The US population is likely to expand from the current 300 million towards 450 million over the next 50-100 years. This is likely to produce a greater weighting of urban representation rather than rural representation.

Time is therefore on the side of the urban party in the long run.

It would be interesting to see at what “average” population density does the majority population start to vote Democrat rather than Republican.


Anthony 11.04.04 at 7:21 pm

Abb1 – I’m not sure I’d call cities like San Francisco or Oakland “nice, livable” cities. The schools suck and the crime rates are rather high, and they’ve been solid blue for a while. (SF voted 9-1 K-B in the election). New York has gotten to be much nicer, but that’s after years of a Republican mayor. Los Angeles is pretty blue, too, though it’s not nearly as urban as most other cities in the US. “Nice” is questionable for most of LA, too.


andrew 11.04.04 at 7:26 pm

What;s up w/ the Florida panhandle? I thought it was supposed to be bright red.


andrew 11.04.04 at 7:46 pm

hehe… don’t miss
this world map on Steven Clemons’ site.


Henry 11.04.04 at 7:54 pm

On the urban future: maybe, maybe not. Big cities were a lot more important in the 50’s and 60’s than they are today; population growth is in the formerly sparsely populated areas, where exurbs are expanding. And will continue to do so with the technology that allows for commuting of all sorts.
Calling all geographers–correct me if I’m wrong.


htom 11.04.04 at 7:57 pm

Most interesting is to take the purple map and grade the colors from white (empty) to full color by the county population density (you have to use a log curve, say 0-1, 1-10, 10-100, 100-1000, 1000-10000, 10000-1000000 per square mile; or steps at 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048 4096 8192 … per square mile.) You get a light pink-lavander country with bright blue points.


djw 11.04.04 at 9:00 pm

What are the black counties?


Gene 11.04.04 at 9:04 pm

Here is the population issue. The Christian right pops out little babies like crazy.. fresh for conversion and branwashing.. will teach them all about fear and damnation.. while the Blues make the dough, pay the taxes, and support the lil’ buggers. Unfort they are reproducing less. Overall.. the country is going to get poorer, more religious, and prime fodder for a Repub party’s fear tactics. Woohoo! We’re on our way to becoming a Christian rendition of Iran! YEEHAW!


Chance the Gardener 11.04.04 at 9:06 pm

This is likely to produce a greater weighting of urban representation rather than rural representation.

I don’t really think the rural areas are that big a deal… no, it is the suburbs.

Inner cities are NOT growing. They are usually shrinking. Instead, exurbs/suburbs are the areas of growth.

Suburbs have a greater population density that rural areas, but does not necessarily contain the same people you would find in a city.

Every single one of the belt of suburbs of Columbus (delaware county, etcetera) went big for Bush. Columbus itself (franklin county) went for Kerry. The big growth is NOT in Columbus. It is in the surrounding areas.

So, no, long term demographics are not really all that helpful in and of themselves. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the birth rate is significantly higher in red states.


Kieran Healy 11.04.04 at 9:14 pm

Counties shaded black mean data wasn’t available or that election returns are not provided at the county level — e.g., they use municipality or district instead.


Keith M Ellis 11.04.04 at 9:19 pm

Here is the population issue. The Christian right pops out little babies like crazy.. fresh for conversion and branwashing.. will teach them all about fear and damnation.. while the Blues make the dough, pay the taxes, and support the lil’ buggers.

Um, gene, you realize that what you’re saying is true about both blacks and hispanics—at least as true as it is fundamentalist Christians—and it’s an incredibly fucking offensive argument to make in the context of a conservative saying “Oh no! We’re going to be overrun by minority Democrats!” So, you know, maybe your argument is not the best idea, either.


fortasse 11.04.04 at 9:20 pm

In response to Andrew: the blue counties in the Florida panhandle contain Tallahasse, the capital. FSU and FAMU (a traditionally black university) are located here; consequently the area tends to vote democrat.


Mark 11.04.04 at 9:28 pm

Much better cartograms are possible using computer methods. Look here or here (Figure 3) for cartograms by population and electoral college for the 2000 election. There’s also a cartogram showing where all the news stories come from–New York and DC are huge, and nowhere else matters at all.


Mike Liveright 11.04.04 at 10:56 pm

vs Taxes (2000)

I have also seen some maps (of the 2000 election, though since almost nothing changed these are roughly of the 2004 election) relative to Slave/Free states, , Night views of the US, etc.


Greedo_shoots_first 11.04.04 at 11:17 pm

Compare blue counties in the South with the African-American population densities from this map:

You can see that the Democrat base in the South is based on African-American voting. The fact that Bush doubled his vote in that demographic could be bad news for any future Democrat Presidential candidate who wants to re-capture southern electoral votes.


KCinDC 11.05.04 at 1:01 am

Greedo: Bush didn’t double his percentage of the African-American vote. That was only in the fantasy world that Bushists were talking about before the election. Here in the real world, he may have increased it from 9% to 11%.


Brian 11.05.04 at 2:51 am

Malkin’s one of those goons who’s either too stupid or too ignorant to realize that 75% of the counties in the nation are rural, and since Bush naturally does better in rural counties, he’ll naturally do better in the number of counties overall. She would also never mention the fact that only 25% of the population lives in those counties, while 75% lives in the other 25% of the nonrural counties. But when did facts matter to someone like Malkin?


Azad 11.05.04 at 3:31 am


remember those faith based charity initiatives? that’s where your tax dollars are going. and who do people thank and vote for when they recieve help from such charities?

read this email on Kos,

it’s a wicked strategy, starve em and provide material support in the form of religious giving, it’s the american form of clientelism!!! i smell thesis!


kristine 11.05.04 at 3:46 am

of interest to the population/vote discussion:


kristine 11.05.04 at 3:47 am

of interest to the population/vote discussion:


kristine 11.05.04 at 3:49 am

of interest to the population/vote discussion:


Adi 11.05.04 at 5:22 am

im in the little democratic county we like to call Athens, the only one i believe that defeated the gay marriage ban. we had a peace rally here yesterday too :) we are NOT part of Dick Cheney’s America


Adi 11.05.04 at 5:22 am

im in the little democratic county we like to call Athens, the only one i believe that defeated the gay marriage ban. we had a peace rally here yesterday too :) we are NOT part of Dick Cheney’s America

oops i meant Athens,Ohio … sorry about that


Zizka 11.05.04 at 5:49 am

What is urban and what is rural? Definitions vary. As I understand, the US census uses a strict definition of “rural” which makes the US 90% urban.

Besides the urban/ rural split, I think proximity to a university defines a place. IE, two cities of 50,000 will be completely different in nature depending on whether they have universities or not. The one without will be much more rural.


Anders 11.05.04 at 10:02 am

Here’s an interesting tabulation of the results versus state population average IQ. I have no way of verifying the data, but either scary or funny (if not true)


john b 11.05.04 at 12:11 pm

The intelligence chart isn’t exactly fake, but it’s bad statistics – it uses income as a proxy for IQ.


Brian R. 11.05.04 at 2:42 pm

Surely,the USA Today map is a distortion of the views of the American electorate in one sense especially in terms of the House of Representatives. On the other hand, it is very reflective of a major problem for Democrats in terms of the Senate. Democrats can dream of getting rid of the EC, but the Senate is not going away(neither is the EC). As the red/blue map shows, Republicans are a real threat to reach the magical 60 seats in the Senate. Senators have a long memory. Therefore, Daschle’s judicial strategy will come back to haunt Democrats, because Republicans will exact a payback in some form.


Brian C.B. 11.05.04 at 9:20 pm

The blue in South Carolina isn’t Charleston. Charleston County is reddish-purple, because it’s rural and urban African-American population is balanced by a while population in the county’s outer, suburban, reaches. The blue is probably Orangeburg, part of the Black Belt, the string of midland counties that you’ll note continues to the Mississippi. These are counties containing a considerable part of the South’s rural African-American population.

As for Daschle’s judicial appointments strategy, that appeared to be “approve hundreds of nominations, deny four to six.” After two years of this talk, and this election, the mask of victimhood is beginning to slip.


Marion 11.05.04 at 9:39 pm

Check this map out, it’s even more telling:


Lukas 11.05.04 at 11:27 pm

Yes, the Senate is a big problem. Wyoming has the same number of senators as California? Rotten boroughs, anybody?


Suresh 11.06.04 at 3:53 am

Here’s a cartogram version of Purple Haze (the cartograms are generated by county, rather than by state)


Tim 11.06.04 at 4:22 am

“prarie dog and cowpat” vote? Yep, us sister fxxxing hicks just made first class jackasses out of you city slickers!

Face it, you sore loser, MORE of us chose President Bush over your gigolo. So why don’t you just shuffle on down to your big city corner and buy yourself some crack to drown your sorrows in?


Chris Clarke 11.06.04 at 5:43 am

I don’t give a damn about rural america, and will do everything I can to make sure none of my wealth gets transferred to ease their poverty, their ignorance, and their obesity.
Oddly enough, I just wrote a screed on that sort of offensive silliness.


Kieran Healy 11.06.04 at 5:51 am

“prarie dog and cowpat” vote? Yep, us sister fxxxing hicks just made first class jackasses out of you city slickers!

Oh I give up. Did you even read the post? The point is that prairie dogs and cowpats and large tracts of open rangeland don’t vote. People do. So coloring huge sections of America red doesn’t mean anything when hardly anyone lives in them, when the electorate is pretty closely split, or both. If you just want to fling abuse you can bugger off somewhere else.


Obsidian 11.07.04 at 1:14 am

I made a bunch of maps you might like here:

I try to show population density and vote at the same time.

One point, the naive red-to-blue maps almost always present an inaccurate picture, because color perception is very tricky. In short: America is not purple.


Conrad Kilroy 11.07.04 at 3:47 am

I showed my expert friend this and his response was,

“Among us, I think their cartograms are crappy. They overgeneralize the polygons,
i.e. take out many intermediate points along the boundaries to make the computation faster. Our group wrote a competing article today with pictures that use our method:

If you are a blogger feel free to link to this site.”

-Michael Gastner, Ph.D. Student. Physics Department, UofMich


x 11.08.04 at 8:11 am



Sandy 11.09.04 at 10:57 pm

Exit polls tell a slightly different story. Small towns and small cities went 50/50.

The only places that went more largely to Bush were suburbs and completely rural voters.

Don’t buy into the moral values, rural southerner nonsense. That’s not what’s happening. Suburban people want their tax cuts, farmers want their subsidies. That’s all the more complicated we need to make this.

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