Democratic counties represent 70% of U.S. GDP, 2020 election shows

  • The 2020 elections, chaotic and marked by races "too close to call," have nonetheless reaffirmed that, at least in Washington, the two parties now speak for markedly different segments of the U.S. economy.
  • President Donald Trump carried 2,497 counties across the country that together generate 29% of the American economy, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.
  • President-elect Joe Biden won 477 counties that together generate 70% of U.S. GDP.
  • These differences, if they persist or worsen, could result in partisan gridlock for years to come, a researcher wrote.

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The 2020 elections, chaotic and marked by races "too close to call," have nonetheless reaffirmed that, at least in Washington, the two parties now speak for markedly different segments of the U.S. economy.

President Donald Trump carried 2,497 counties across the country that together generate 29% of the American economy, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution. President-elect Joe Biden won 477 counties that together generate 70% of U.S. GDP.

Republicans represent a far greater number of smaller counties with less-educated, more-homogenous workforces that, on average, tend to rely on manufacturing, agriculture and mining.

Democrats represent a smaller number of densely populated and diverse metropolitan counties fueled by service-oriented industries like finance, professional services and software.

That's similar to the 2016 results, when Brookings showed that the nearly 2,600 counties Trump won generated 36% of the country's output versus the 472 counties that Hillary Clinton won that produced 64%.

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Brookings researcher Mark Muro put it this way: "While the election's outcome has changed, the nation's political geography remains rigidly divided."

"Blue and red America continue to reflect two very different economies—one oriented to
diverse, often college-educated workers in professional and digital services professions and the other whiter, less-educated, and more dependent on 'traditional' industries," he added.

To put a point on this economic-geographic divergence, Brookings noted that Biden flipped seven of the nation's 100-highest-output counties in the 2020 election and further cemented the link between the Democratic party and the nation's core economic hubs.

Biden took away half of Trump's 10 most economically significant counties from 2016, including Maricopa in Arizona, Tarrant in Texas, Duval and Pinellas in Florida and Morris in New Jersey.

Blue districts have attracted the expanding segments of the U.S. population and workforce; 34% of their residents are non-white and 36% have at least a bachelor's degree. Red districts, by comparison, are 15% non-white and 25% have at least a bachelor's degree, Brookings found.

The problem, Muro suggests, is not only that Democrats and Republicans disagree on issues of culture, identity, and power, but that they represent "radically different" areas of the economy.

These differences, if they persist or worsen, could result in partisan gridlock for years to come, the researcher wrote.

Democrats represent voters who overwhelmingly live in the nation's diverse center and thus tend to prioritize housing affordability, better social safety nets, transportation infrastructure and racial justice.

On the other hand, Republicans represent the economies of the nation's struggling small towns and rural areas that see little reason to weigh the needs of urban districts.

"If this pattern continues—with one party aiming to confront the challenges at top of mind for a majority of Americans, and the other continuing to stoke the hostility and indignation held by a significant minority—it will be a recipe not only for more gridlock and ineffective governance, but also for economic harm to nearly all people and places," Muro wrote.

"In light of the desperate need for a broad, historic recovery from the economic damage of the COVID-19 pandemic, a continuation of the patterns we've seen play out over the past decade would be a particularly unsustainable situation for Americans in communities of all sizes," he added.

—Data visualizations by CNBC's John Schoen

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