The Covid election
By Scott Sumner
Let’s start with the basic overview. In 2016, Clinton beat Trump by 2.9 million in the popular vote. In 2020, Biden won by over 7 million votes. So obviously the country shifted substantially toward the Democrats.
But many sub-groups went the other way:
1. Vietnamese-American areas in Orange County shifted dramatically toward Trump, by margins on the order of 40%
2. Working class Asian neighborhoods shifted strongly toward Trump.
3. Hispanic areas shifted strongly toward Trump. (But still Democratic.)
4. In Rockland County, New York, Orthodox Jewish areas shifted strongly toward Trump, with margins not usually seen outside Turkmenistan.
5. While data is sketchy, Amish areas in Pennsylvania seemed to shift substantially toward Trump.
6. African-American areas shifted mildly toward Trump (remaining strongly Democratic in absolute terms.)
I’ve found news articles discussing most of these shifts, and in almost every case the article mentioned resentment against Covid shutdowns.
So if all these groups shifted toward Trump, many quite strongly, how did Biden do so much better than Clinton?
It wasn’t rural white voters. That was a mixed bag, with no clear trend toward the Democrats. So where did the extra 4.1 million Democratic margin come from?
The detailed election map of vote shifts from 2016 is clear. Look at almost any urban area and you see the same pattern. Red for Hispanic areas (sharp shift to Trump.) Pink for African American areas (mild shift to Trump.) And blue for white suburban areas, (strong shift to Biden.)
All across America, white suburban areas shifted toward the Democrats.
These were often well-educated white-collar workers who worked from home during Covid. Whereas working class minorities resented Covid restrictions, these voters resented the fact that Trump didn’t seem to make much effort to control Covid, discouraging testing, pushing unproven remedies, ridiculing mask wearers, etc.
This might be the first election where the voters who did well under a president turned against him while those that suffered economically turned toward him.
In this post, I’m not taking a stand as to which voters were right, just trying to understand why some parts of the country swung one way while others moved in the opposite direction.
Here’s a map of the vote shift in Philadelphia area, which is typical. The bright red in the north side is Hispanic. The pink area just to the west is mostly black, and the further out areas are mostly white suburbs. Again, these are vote shifts. In absolute terms Trump still did fairly well among whites and poorly among minorities.
PS. You may wish to compare these vote patterns to the racial dot map of America, which is quite informative. I’m sure people will do regression analyses, but these vote shifts are so obvious you don’t even need to run regressions.
PPS. I certainly don’t mean to suggest Covid was the only issue. Various news articles suggest that communities such as Vietnamese-Americans and Orthodox Jews were also motivated by other issues.