Giant Sucking Sound and Makers/Takers? A look at counties…

With the inauguration over and budget battles just in the distance, it’s time to take a quick look back at the 2012 presidential election. Comments by Mitt Romeny and Paul Ryan during and after the campaign played into the belief of some that the struggle was between producers of wealth and the people who live off of producers and the campaign was over a small middle ground. This election also had a profound big city vs. small city/rural split with Obama winning 69 percent in big cities while Romney won 56 percent in small cities and rural areas [1] (see this map for a visual). This split and mode of thinking feeds into the the notion of rural America (makers) subsidizing big cities filled with poor residents (takers) in the political mind of many voters. But is this even remotely the case? Are rich counties voting republican and getting outvoted by poor areas and presumably getting money sucked away producing a geographic injustice? You can find some analysis at the state level here.

The map below examines counties that have an average household income  of more than $75,000 [note 1] and shows which candidate won theses counties [note 2]. The first map shows the typical thematic map of counties with a few labels. You can see Pres. Obama won Cook County (Chicago) so not too surprising. Many of the strong “Maker Counties”, for lack of a better term, are located on the coasts, upper-midwest, and Texas. By area it looks like an even split between Romney and Obama.


The bottom map is re-sized based on county population, this gives a different picture both literally and figuratively.  Counties with large areas are urban suburban, and like the top map, only counties with high median household income are filled in. You can readily observe the rich and very democratic California coast particularly San Francisco metro area with no red suburban counties and and an almost completely democratic Boston metro.  In the South, central cities tend not to make the cut on income except for Atlanta and Austin. The suburbs in southern cities tend toward republican and look like they are warped around empty cores. The northeast has strong blue central cities or inner suburbs and some red suburbs (note city of  Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia, as well as Brooklyn  did not make the income cut). Any notion that rural areas and small cities are subsidizing large poor urban areas and politically realities are going to make solidify these trends are empirically disproved by these maps.

This is not to say Obama won the majority of richer residences in all these wealthy “blue” counties. In darkest blue counties where Obama won a very large majority  it is very likely he won a majority of high-income household voters. According to exit polls show he lost voters earning more than $100,000 to Romney who got got 54 percent of those voters. While Obama won 53 percent of voter making less than $50,000.  But this result altered by state significantly Obama won wealthy voters in NY, CA, NJ, CT, and MA out of 19 states data was available [1]. What this map shows in the wealthy counties he got enough votes to win from richer voters along with the help of minority voters and lower income voters. In fact could be argued that lower income voters have no national political party to represent their economic interest as displayed by the upward trend in inequity the last 35 years.

Source [1]

Note 1: 75,000 is about 70 percentile for household income. The national average household income is $52,000.

Note 2: Data from Census ACS 2006-2010 so not quite up to date with election data. But as close as was available at the county level a for 5 year sample.


About Matthew Mulbrandon

I really like maps, as I am a geographer, and with the help of my more artistic partner I make cool maps. My focus in work and education has been centred on urban problems particularly housing and transportation. I have built and am working on several agent-based housing models. I am also interested in developing innovative ways to combat urban congestion using buses and electric kick scooters. Also it has led me to more theoretical pursuits such as how we determine if a model or methodology is sound (epistemology). How individuals relate to their social and built environment and their resulting interactions (social theory). Cities and really all our institutions are made of people with all their issues, virtues, and dreams and cannot be discounted when examining policy or predicting behaviours.

There are 2 comments

  1. Derek

    The problem is with the definition of “maker”. People who believe the rural people are supporting the city people do not believe that people in Washington actually make anything. They believe that bureaucrats simply take. They probably also don’t believe marketers, financial people, artists, etc in New York actually make anything So in their view, the people who make things are supporting the rest, even if some of the rest are on a million dollars a year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s