Blue City … Red City? A Comparison of Competing Theories of Core County Outcomes in U.S. Presidential Elections, 2000-2012

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Journal of Urban Affairs


The red/blue dichotomy describing presidential elections, while criticized, is ubiquitous: Red states vote Republican; blue states vote Democratic. Locally, suburban and rural counties are often red; urban counties are often blue. This overgeneralization misses the Republican share of urban centers. This study analyzes the 2000–12 presidential elections in core counties of metropolitan areas with populations over 250,000.

Possible explanations for urban election outcomes cover three theoretical groupings: sociodemographics, culture, and economics.

Several prominent explanatory variables from each are compared. Changes from 2000–04 to 2008–12 are highlighted given the 2008 economic crash and President Obama's race and urban identity, which permitted him to cut President Bush's core county share in half. Regression analyses find that sociodemographic and cultural features account for most variation for all elections, while economic indicators add little explanatory power.

In contrast to conventional thinking, economics mattered most in 2004; culture increased in importance in 2008–2012; and urban foreclosures positively influenced Republican candidate John McCain in 2008.

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John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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