If there's one thing the rise of targeted voter informatics has given us, it's that inside swing states that will determine the White House is the theory that those states are controlled by swing counties. I've mentioned before that as goes Hamilton County and Cincinnati goes Ohio when it comes to presidential elections, but Hamilton is not the only swing county out there, and the 2016 election may be determined by who votes in these largely suburban counties.
Americans have heard that the election of the next president will be determined by a few battleground states, with Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania as 2016’s leading examples. But what if it’s not simply a handful of swing states but swing counties, with less than 500,000 swing voters, that truly matters?
That’s the provocative assessment from David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University in Minnesota and editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education. Schultz co-edited a book on swing states and now predicts fewer than 20 counties will tip the balance to pick the next president.
Where are 2016’s deciders? In Ohio, it’s Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati. In Pennsylvania, it’s Bucks and Chester Counties, to the north and south of Philadelphia, and also Lackawanna and Luzerne counties. In Florida, it’s Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, surrounding Tampa and St. Petersburg. In Wisconsin, it’s Brown County, where Green Bay is; nearby Winnebago County, further inland; and Racine County to the south near Chicago suburbs. In Iowa, it’s rural tiny Bremer County, and in New Hampshire, it’s Hillsborough township, inland on the Massachusetts border.
There are a few more: population epicenters such as Nevada’s Clark County, home of Las Vegas; Virginia’s Prince William County, outside Washington D.C., North Carolina’s Wake County, with Raleigh and Durham; New Mexico’s Bernalillo County, containing Albuquerque; and surprisingly, Dona Ana County near Las Cruces, which has a big state university.
“These seem to be the counties within the swing states where the candidates go,” said Schultz. “They view them as battlegrounds. They seem to be pretty good bellwethers, in the sense of predictors of how that state is going to vote… Even if they appear blue or red, there’s a question of how great the turnout will be.”
These counties, which cast 2,485,793 votes for Barack Obama in 2012, compared to 2,106,985 votes for Mitt Romney, seem to be their state’s 2016 tipping points or bellwethers for a variety of reasons. They sit in between red and blue belts. They’re often suburban, experiencing major demographic shifts, including young and better-educated people moving in, and some are more racially diverse.
“What we are seeing in these counties, at least right now, is relatively balanced, in terms of Republicans and Democrats,” Schultz said. “We have a small portion of the population of these counties that are going to be the swing voter. When I say swing voter, I don’t necessarily mean swinging from Democrat to Republican. They might be swinging in to vote, or swinging out from voting.”
So turnout is just as important to these counties as the voting tallies, and they are large enough to decide an entire state. It makes sense to me, there's four and a half to five million votes in these swing state counties alone, which can certainly affect the outcome of an election.
We'll see if the theory holds true again in 2016. Knowing how important Hamilton County is to deciding Ohio's elections, I'm not surprised at all to find other counties in other swing states also being key areas.
By the way, Trump still doesn't have an office in Hamilton County.