While we wait for Tuesday's returns, I'm experimenting with new ways to show election data, particularly with respect to the geographic bases of the two major parties. The charts below show the importance of major counties in Ohio to the Democrats and Republicans over the past century. Indicating both partisan leanings and population growth, they show which percentage of each party's total vote has come from a specific county.
For example, the electorate in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County has actually decreased over the past half-century, but it remains vital to Democratic candidates because they've been getting a bigger piece of the shrinking pie. In contrast, suburban Butler County, outside Cincinnati, has become more important to the Republicans because they've maintained a lead throughout a period of fast population growth.
I hope to update and create charts to reflect the 2012 results, so feedback on their content and presentation is welcome. And thanks to the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections for being a chief data source.
1960: 717,086 votes, 60% D (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 601,117 votes, 59% D (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 667,299 votes, 69% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Cuyahoga County has been more Democratic than Ohio as a whole in 1928, when Al Smith became the first Catholic nominee. Smith still lost the county, but Democrats have since won all but three times (1952, 1956, 1972). Turnout hit a record 654,427 in 1952, when Cuyahoga provided 15.7% of all GOP votes in the state (not that Eisenhower needed them). In 1960, there was another record turnout (717,086), which still stands. Kennedy got 22.1% of all his Ohio votes here and lost the state badly. Since then, a flat population has been eroding the county's influence. But because Democrats have been winning with larger margins (68.7% for Obama in 2008 vs. 59.8% for Kennedy), Cuyahoga remains key to a Democratic victory.
1960: 271,461 votes, 59% R (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 377,357 votes, 60% R (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 561,763 votes, 60% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
In contrast to Cleveland, the state capital has been steadily growing. Turnout in Columbus's Franklin County doubled from 1960 to 2010 (from 271,461 to 561,763). For most of the 20th century, Franklin was a GOP counterweight to Cuyahoga, and the Republicans benefited from the fast population growth here. By 1992, Franklin provided 9.8% of all GOP votes in the state. Four years later, Bill Clinton became the first Democrat to carry the county since 1940 (outside of the Johnson landslide of 1964). In 2008, Obama got a Democratic all-time record of 59.6%, and Franklin provided a recrod 11.4% of all the party's votes in the state.
1960: 387,283 votes, 55% R (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 370,384 votes, 61% R (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 425,086 votes, 53% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Long a Republican stronghold, Cincinnati's Hamilton County is now another sign of how much Democrats depend on the large urban counties of Ohio. In 2008, Hamilton had a record turnout of 425,086, but that wasn't very much above the 1960 number of 387,283, and the county is rapidly declining in importance to the GOP even as it becomes only slightly more important to the Democrats. Obama's 53% here was the best for a Democrat since 1936 (outside of the 1964 Johnson landslide). Ohio Republicans got a 20th-century record of 15.1% of their votes from Hamilton in 1912 because President Taft retained support here while losing Republican votes to 3rd candidate Teddy Roosevelt in northern Ohio. Democrats got a 20th-century record of 12.8% of their votes here in 1928 when they nominated Catholic Al Smith, who was anathema to rural Ohio.
1960: 207,927 votes, 53% R (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 228,943 votes, 57% R (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 279,031 votes, 52% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
As Democrats become more dominant in Ohio's three biggest cities, Republicans have become more dependent on second-tier metropolises that remain mostly white and working-class. Though the central city of Dayton has suffered large population losses, Montgomery County as a whole has been more stable. In 2008, there were 279,031 votes cast here, down a few thousand from the record turnout in 2004. The Democratic dependence on Ohio peaked in 1980, when the party got an even 6% of its votes here, thanks to Carter narrowly retaining the county even as he was soundly defeated by Reagan in Ohio overall. But Republicans have held their own since, and in 1992, Clinton defeated Bush by a measly 1.6 points here. That's when Montgomery achieved peak GOP influence (5.5% of all its votes in Ohio), and the parties have been running close together since.
1960: 219,918 votes, 50.4% D (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 215,589 votes, 52% D (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 278,629 votes, 58% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Not much change in this county just south of Cuyahoga since 1932, when the Great Depression pushed it into the Democratic column. There was a Republican revival in 1960, when Kennedy carried Summit County by only 0.8 points, but Democratic influence peaked in 1972, when Nixon beat McGovern by only 1.7 points here. Obama's 57.7% was only a bit ahead of Kerry's 56.7% in 2004, making Summit a prime example of Obama's inability to make inroads among overwhelmingly white, industrial areas in the Midwest. If he wins here in 2012, it's likely because he's at least holding steady in places like Summit.
1960: 197,504 votes, 52% D (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 185,095 votes, 54% D (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 220,457 votes, 65% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Toledo's Lucas County was quite hospitable to Republicans even after the Great Depression. GOP reliance on the county peaked in 1944, when losing nominee Tom Dewey got 50.4% here, helping to flip the whole state to the Republicans. A post-war population surge pushed the county into must-win territory for the Democrats, and landslide winner Eisenhower got only 53% for the GOP here in 1956. In 2008, this was part of a big swing toward Obama in northwestern Ohio, and his 64.8% here was the biggest win for the Democrats since the Civil War. Fun fact: Lucas was the largest Ohio county won by Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican primary.
1960: 150,086 votes, 55% R (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 158,096 votes, 55% R (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 188,010 votes, 52% D (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Stark County, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the McKinley Presidential Library, is just south of Summit County (see above), which puts it one county away from Cleveland. But this where we start getting into small-town Ohio. The population density here is 653 people per square mile, compared with Summit's 1,313 and Cuyahoga's 2,800. Stark has been of almost equal importance to the two major parties for most of the past century. It stuck with FDR in 1944 when Ohio flipped to the Republicans; the GOP was most dependent on the county in 1980, when Reagan crushed Carter by 18 points and helped put the state out of reach for the Democrats. Obama did slightly better here than in the state as a whole in 2008, when the electorate's county shrunk by a few hundred votes.
1960: 79,296 votes, 59% R (vs. 53% R in Ohio)
1988: 110,208 votes, 69% R (vs. 55% R in Ohio)
2008: 174,059 votes, 61% R (vs. 51% D in Ohio)
Finally, we get to the real Republican base in Ohio. Butler County (788 people per square mile) lies north of Cincinnati's Hamilton County and the suburban area was called "essential to Mitt Romney's hopes for victory" by Robert Stacy McCain in the conservative American Spectator. Butler's usefulness to the Democrats peaked in 1924, when a mere 34,398 voters (futilely) broke against Calvin Coolidge. Its importance to the Republicans has been steadily rising since World War II, as more and more suburban homes have been built (presumably housing many ex-residents of Cincinnati). Suburban counties in other parts of the US have trended Democratic as they've become more crowded, but there's little evidence of a partisan shift in Butler County. Obama did bump up the Democratic percentage from 34 percent to 38 percent in 2008, but Republican candidates for governor and senator won overwhelmingly here in 2010.