Last summer I posted on the counties that contributed to George W. Bush's "surge" from 2000 to 2004. Now it's time to look at the biggest swings toward the Democrats from 2004 to 2008 (click below to embiggen). For thousands of other fascinating maps and tables, go to Dave Leip's Atlas of US Presidential Elections, at which I verified much of the data below.
BIGGEST % INCREASES FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE, 2004-2008
1. Maverick, Texas. Total vote: 10,939. Obama percentage: 78.2%, up 18.9 points.
This is an amusing No. 1, given John McCain's attempts to own the label "maverick," but it's not a shock by historical standards. The county is on the Mexican border, is about 95 percent Latino, and hasn't voted for a Republican since Herbert Hoover in 1928. George W. Bush kept Democrat John Kerry slightly below 60% here in 2004, probably because of Bush's Texan roots. In last year's Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton beat Obama here by almost 3-to-1, part of a pattern in which he lost badly in mostly Latino counties. To the great disappointment of the GOP, Obama had no problem winning over Latino voters by November.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii. Total vote: 306,813. Obama percentage: 69.8%, up 18.8 points.
Not a surprise, given that it's Obama's birthplace. But another reason for the jump was that the county was uncharacteristically close in 2004: George W. Bush got 48%, and his 8.7-point jump from the previous election was one of the biggest increases in the US.
3. Sharkey, Mississippi. Total vote: 2,795. Obama percentage: 68.2%, up 17.8 points.
Obama's percentage almost exactly matched the percentage of residents who identified as African-American in the 2000 Census (69.3%). But blacks voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry in 2004, so why should there be such a big change last year? One clue may be the county's dwindling population. The Census estimated 5,571 residents in 2007 -- representing a drop of 1,009 people (or 15 percent) since 2000. We won't have new racial data until 2010, but it seems likely that white voters have simply been disappearing from the voter rolls here.
4. Culberson, Texas. Total vote: 759. Obama percentage: 64.8%, up 17.2 points.
Similar story to Maverick County (see No. 1): a mostly Latino, historically Democratic county on the Mexican border that swung toward Texan George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and went heavily for Hillary Clinton in last year's Democratic primary. Obama's victory was a return to form.
5. Dubois, Indiana. Total vote: 18,565. Obama percentage: 47.1%, up 16.6 points.
At last we come to a county that made a real difference in the Electoral College, helping Obama to become the first Democrat to carry Indiana since 1964. Obama still lost this particular county, but he did better than any Democrat since 1976, and McCain needed landslide wins in counties like this to overcome Obama's advantage in urban areas. Dubois County is 0.14% black and 2.78% Latino (with 64.7% reporting German ancestry), so Obama didn't benefit from a high turnout among minority voters here. This is not a high-poverty area, but it's heavily dependent on manufacturing (especially the making of furniture), so worries about the economy may well have swung voters toward the Democrats. Obama, who did much worse in essentially all-white counties in nearby Kentucky, may have also benefited from exposure to voters during the closely fought Democratic primary in the spring. He lost the county by 55-45 margin to Hillary Clinton; as in other counties on this list, he seems to have had little problem winning over her supporters.
6. Big Horn, Montana. Total vote: 5,218. Obama percentage: 67.4%, up 16.0 points.
This southern Montana county is 60% Native American (mostly from the Crow Tribe), and was the site of Custer's Last Stand. As of 2000, an alarming 29% of the population here lived below the poverty line. Obama's surge here was probably due to a high turnout; the number of votes cast here rose 21 percent between 2004 and 2008, though the total population was essentially the same.
7. Maui, Hawaii. Total vote: 51,789. Obama percentage: 76.7%, up 16.0 points.
Yes, a tidal wave of support for the native son. See No. 2.
8. Rockdale, Georgia. Total vote: 37,706. Obama percentage: 54.4%, up 15.6 points.
Obama didn't win Georgia, but this county, anchored by the city of Conyers, is a worrisome sign for the GOP. In the 1980s, this was an exurban Atlanta county that cast about 15,000 votes and was reliably Republican. (Walter Mondale won only 25% here in 1984, and Michael Dukakis inched up to 26% four years later.) After more than doubling in size, it's moved toward the Democrats, as have other counties close to Atlanta (Clayton, DeKalb, Douglas). But Obama would need the domino effect to work on a few more suburban counties in order to havea chance of carrying the state in 2012.
9. Rush, Indiana. Total vote: 7,629. Obama percentage: 42.3%, up 15.4 points.
This was Wendell Willkie's home when he became the Republican nominee against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. It's voted Republican ever since, but Obama came closer than any Democrat except Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Like Dubois County, this is an almost all-white, low-poverty area with few college graduates and a heavy concentration of manufacturing jobs.
10. Tippecanoe, Indiana. Total vote: 68,635. Obama percentage: 55.1%, up 15.3 points.
In the home of Purdue University, Obama did better than any Democratic candidate since at least 1892. It's somewhat better educated than most of the state (35% have a college degree, compared with 10% in Rush County, above).
BIGGEST % INCREASES FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE AMONG COUNTIES CASTING AT LEAST 10,000 VOTES, 2004-2008
1. Maverick, Texas. See above.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii. See above.
3. Dubois, Indiana. See above.
4. Maui, Hawaii. See above.
5. Rockdale, Georgia. See above.
6. Tippecanoe, Indiana. See above.
7. Hawaii, Hawaii. Total vote: 66,916. Obama percentage: 75.9%, up 15.1 points.
No surprise that Obama did so well on the "Big Island."
8. Montgomery, Indiana. Total vote: 15,285. Obama percentage: 39.3%, up 15.0 points.
Obama ran 14 points behind his national percentage here, but that's better than John Kerry's 24-point lag in 2004. This is another overwhelmingly white manufacturing area; as of 2006, it was called the "absolute world leader in bottle cap production." It's also the home of the Ben-Hur Museum.
9. Kauai, Hawaii. Total vote: 27,224. Obama percentage: 75.0%, up 15.0 points.
Another Hawaiian county heard from.
10. Cameron, Texas. Total vote: 75,657. Obama percentage: 64.1%, up 14.9 points.
Another mostly Latino border county, this one anchored by the city of Brownsville. Bush narrowly carried it in 2004, marking the first time a Republican won here since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Obama pushed it back into safe Democratic territory.
1. Honolulu, Hawaii. See above.
2. Hidalgo, Texas. Total vote: 130,784. Obama percentage: 69.0%, up 14.2 points.
Also on the Mexican border, and 88% Latino. The largest city is McAllen. What's missing from this list, of course, is a Texas county not dominated by the Latino vote. Democrats need to better in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston.
3. Hamilton, Indiana. Total vote: 129,279. Obama percentage: 38.5%, up 13.3 points.
Unlike many of the Indiana counties noted above, Hamilton is not a struggling manufacturing center. Just north of Indianapolis, it was the 23rd fastest growing county in the entire US from 2000 through 2007, and it's the most affluent county in Indiana. Obama didn't come close to winning it, but he did better than any Democrat since 1936. Why couldn't Bill Clinton carry Indiana in 1992 when he was able to win every state that bordered it? Partly because he got only 18 percent in Hamilton County. By more than doubling that figure last year, Obama put the Hoosier State in contention.
4. Marion, Indiana. Total vote: 380,090. Obama percentage: 63.7%, up 13.1 points.
Until quite recently, Marion County's Indianapolis was considered the most Republican major city in America. But a bump in turnout allowed John Kerry to win the county by 2 points in 2004, for only the second Democratic win in 60 years. Obama turned that squeaker into a rout. (And racial bloc voting is not a sufficient explanation for Marion County's trend toward the Democrats, as the county is still about 65% non-Hispanic white.) Marion County gave Obama 67% in the Democratic primary, a big reason that he came so close to upsetting Hillary Clinton in this state.
5. McHenry, Illinois. Total vote: 139,268. Obama percentage: 51.9%, up 12.6 points.
Since most of the Chicago area was already overwhelmingly Democratic, the biggest jump for Obama in his home state came in this largely exurban county, which has continued to grow at a rapid pace since 2000. As recently as 1988, the GOP won here by more than 2-to-1, but that was when only 65,000 votes were cast. John McCain actually got 19,000 more votes than George H.W. Bush did in 1988, but Obama got 53,000 more votes than Michael Dukakis had.
6. Osceola, Florida. Total vote: 100,670. Obama percentage: 59.6%, up 12.6 points.
In terms of raw numbers, Disney World's Orlando County may have been the most responsible for swinging the state to Obama last year (see earlier post), but next-door Osceola County (county seat: Kissimmee) gave Obama his biggest boost. This is another place where the Democrats seem to be benefiting from rapid population growth: Just over 100,000 votes were cast here last year, and Obama did better than any Democrat since FDR in 1936. Less than half as many votes (46,491) were cast only 12 years ago, when Bill Clinton got only 47%.
7. Allen, Indiana. Total vote: 150,324. Obama percentage 47.4%, up 11.4 points.
Another surge in Indiana, this time in Dan Quayle's old congressional district. Obama did better than any Democrat since 1964.
8. Douglas, Nebraska. Total vote: 226,701. Obama percentage: 51.5%, up 11.3 points.
Obama's narrow victory in Omaha's Douglas County wasn't enough for him to carry the state, but it did net him a single electoral vote, since Nebraska awards one vote to the winner of each congressional district.
9. Prince William, Virginia. Total vote: 162,446. Obama percentage: 57.5%, up 11.1 points.
Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, has voted Democratic in every election beginning in 1984. In 2004, Fairfax County, which completely surrounds Arlington County, flipped to the Democrats for the first time since 1964. And last year, Loudon and Prince William counties, which together surround Fairfax County, joined the trend, voting Democratic for the first time since (again) 1964. And that meant the entire state of Virginia cast its electoral votes for a Democrat for the first time since (all together now) 1964.
10. Kane, Illinois. Total vote: 193,299. Obama percentage: 55.2%, up 11.1 points.
Another sign of Democratic creep in suburbia, this time outside of Chicago. This was the first Democratic victory here since 1912.
BONUS COUNTIES IN SWING STATES:
1. Cumberland, North Carolina. Total vote: 127,575. Obama percentage: 58.6%, up 10.5 points.
John Kerry had already carried the state's largest city, Charlotte, in 2004. But Obama carried Fayetteville's Cumberland County, home of Fort Bragg, and that allowed him to narrowly win the entire state.
2. Winneshiek, Iowa. Total vote: 11,363. Obama percentage: 60.1%, up 10.5 points.
Winneshiek is in the northeast corner of Iowa, close to Obama's Illinois.
3. Rio Arriba, New Mexico. Total vote: 16,411. Obama percentage: 75.0%, up 9.9 points.
Iowa and New Mexico were the only states that flipped to the Republicans in 2004, and Obama won them both back, in large part because of strong performances outside of the major population centers. Rio Arriba, which borders Colorado, gave Obama the highest percentage for any presidential candidate in the county's history.
4. Williams, Ohio. Total vote: 18,397. Obama percentage: 44.4%, up 9.7 points.
Obama took back Ohio, but barely -- all the more surprising given his surge in next-door Indiana. Perhaps not surprisingly, Williams County is in the northwest corner of Ohio and borders Indiana. Obama's strength (by historical standards) in rural northwest Ohio offset his weakness in rural southeast Ohio.
5. Weld, Colorado. Total vote: 105,866. Obama percentage: 44.7%, up 8.7 points.
Another "best since 1964" county for Obama. Weld County, which borders Wyoming, is anchored by the city of Greeley and is still a major agricultural center (sugar beets!). It borders Boulder County, which Obama won with 72%. John McCain probably needed a similar win in this county to keep the state from flipping to the Democrats.