Tagpivot counties

Average margin of victory in Pivot Counties has shifted by 25.1 percentage points from Democrats to Republicans since 2008

Ballotpedia is concluding its analysis of Pivot Counties in the 2020 presidential election with a look at the presidential margins of victory in these counties and how they have changed over time.

Pivot Counties are the 206 counties nationwide that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

In 2020, we have used the following categories to describe these counties:

  • Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again this year, and 
  • Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D) on Nov. 3.

Following the 2020 presidential election, there were 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

In 2008, Obama had an average margin of victory of 12.3 percentage points across all 206 of these counties. In 2020, the average result across all Pivot Counties was a win for Trump by a margin of 12.8 percentage points. This represents a shift of 25.1 percentage points towards Republicans.

When looking at just the 181 Retained Pivot Counties, the margin shift from 2008 increases to 26.2 percentage points. Of those 181 counties, Trump won a larger margin of victory in 113 compared to his 2016 results. Trump’s margin decreased in 68 Retained Pivot Counties.

The average margins in the 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties Joe Biden (D) won in 2020 shifted 10.2 percentage points towards Republicans when compared to results from the same counties in 2008.

The chart below shows the overall change in average margins of victory by Pivot County category between 2008 and 2020. 

The table below shows the margins of victory from each presidential election since 2008 using the categories above. The rightmost section shows the total change since 2008 both in percentage points and percent change. In Retained Pivot Counties, the average margin of victory has shifted 217% towards Republicans. In the 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties that voted for Biden, the average margin has shifted 76% towards Republicans.

The Pivot Counties where Trump’s margin of victory increased from 2016 were located primarily in the Southeast and Upper Midwest, concentrated in states like Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Counties where Trump’s margin decreased in 2020 were located primarily in New England and the Northeast.

Woodruff County, Ark., a Retained Pivot County, had the largest margin change towards Trump in 2020 with an 18.8 percentage point shift. Ziebach County, S.D., a Boomerang Pivot County, had the largest margin change towards Biden with a 10.5 percentage point shift.

The map below does not differentiate between Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties. Instead, it shows counties based on whether their margins of victory became either more Republican, towards Trump, or more Democratic, towards Biden, compared to 2016 results.

To learn more about 2020 presidential election margins of victory in Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here: Election results, 2020: Pivot Counties’ margins of victory analysis



Over 4,700 candidates took Ballotpedia’s candidate survey in 2020

Over 4,700 candidates responded to Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey in 2020

For the third year in a row, Ballotpedia invited all candidates in our coverage scope to complete our Candidate Connection survey. In 2020, we covered 29,002 federal, state, and local candidates.  Our survey asks candidates about their backgrounds, priorities, and proposed solutions to the issues faced by their communities, and aims to enable voters to learn more about political candidates as people.

We received submissions from 4,745 candidates—or 16.4% of all 2020 candidates we tracked. 

Here are five highlights:

  • The 16.4% completion rate is more than double the response rate in 2018. That year, we had 1,957 survey respondents out of 28,315 total candidates covered by Ballotpedia that year, for a completion rate of 6.9%.
  • Incumbents accounted for 5.5% of respondents, with challengers making up the remaining 94.5%.
  • Of the 4,745 candidates who completed Ballotpedia’s candidate survey, 743—15.7%—won their elections. In 2018, 477 of the 1,957 candidates who responded to our survey, or 24.4%, won their races.
  • Candidates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia responded to Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection in 2020. Texas had the most respondents with 391, followed by California at 375 respondents and Michigan at 225.
  • Over half of our survey respondents (54.0%) ran for a state legislative office. Those running for Congress were the second-largest group (27.1%), followed by candidates running for state executive seats (3.8%).

Curious what these candidates had to say? Explore a sample of their answers through our Candidate Questions tool!

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Analyzing the demographics of 2020’s Pivot Counties 

ICYMI, we held a briefing last week providing some in-depth analysis of last year’s voter turnout in Pivot Counties. 

Ballotpedia identified 206 counties nationwide that voted for Barack Obama (D) in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. After the 2020 election, we labeled the 181 counties that voted for Trump in 2020 as Retained Pivot Counties and the 25 counties that voted for Joe Biden (D) as Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Here are three interesting facts I learned watching the briefing:

  • Retained Pivot Counties are less populous on average than Boomerang Pivot Counties. The average population of a Retained Pivot County is 62,980 compared to 186,852 of a Boomerang Pivot County. The nationwide county population average is 104,435. From 2016 to 2020, the population of Retained Pivot Counties decreased 0.1%, and Boomerang Pivot Counties increased 1.0%.
  • The average median home value is higher in Boomerang Pivot Counties than in Retained Pivot Counties. The national median home value is $204,900. Thirty-two percent (32%) of Boomerang Pivot Counties have a median value more than the average, compared to 4% of Retained Pivot Counties.
  • Both Retained (79.6%) and Boomerang Pivot Counties (78.2%) have a higher-than-average non-Hispanic white population compared to the national average of 60.1%. In total, 82% of Retained Pivot Counties (149) and 88% of Boomerang Pivot Counties (22) exceed that national rate.

We discussed even more interesting facts about Pivot Counties, including an analysis of counties that have flipped parties every two cycles going back to the 1970s! Click here to watch the full recording of last week’s briefing.

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U.S. Senate has confirmed three Biden Cabinet secretaries so far

One of the leading priorities of a new presidential administration involves selecting and swearing in members of the Cabinet. The president’s Cabinet includes the heads of 15 key executive agencies like the Department of Commerce and Department of Defense. 

Presidents may also give Cabinet-rank status to other specific positions, such as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency or the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. The vice president is also part of the Cabinet. All Cabinet positions—except for the vice president and White House chief of staff—require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Seven days after their respective inaugurations, Trump had two main Cabinet members confirmed, and Biden had three.

Obama outpaced both of his successors with 10 confirmations at this point following his inauguration. An eleventh Obama Cabinet member—Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—was held over from the Bush administration.

The following chart compares the pace of Senate confirmations for the main 15 Cabinet members following the inaugurations of Presidents Donald Trump (R) in 2017 and Joe Biden (D) in 2021. We also have a similar chart comparing the pace of Senate confirmations between the Obama and Biden administrations here. These charts do not include other Cabinet-rank positions whose inclusion in the Cabinet varies from administration to administration.

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Analyzing demographics of the Pivot Counties with highest, lowest turnout in 2020

Two-hundred and six Pivot Counties voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. In the 2020 presidential election, 181 Retained Pivot Counties voted for Trump again, and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties voted for Joe Biden (D).

Demographically, Retained Pivot Counties tended to be less populous, with an average population of 62,890 compared to 186,852 for Boomerang Pivot Counties. Retained Pivot Counties also tended to have lower median home values and lower rates of educational attainment when compared to the average Boomerang Pivot County. Both Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties tended to have a higher-than-average non-Hispanic white population compared to the nationwide percentage.

What does demographic data reveal about Pivot Counties with the highest and lowest rates of voter turnout in 2020?

Of the ten Pivot Counties with the highest voter turnout rates in 2020, eight were Retained Pivot Counties and two were Boomerang Pivot Counties. Turnout rates increased in all of these counties between 2016 and 2020.

Based on 2019 U.S. Census estimates, the ten pivot counties with the highest voter turnout rates in 2020 have a larger percentage white population than the average Pivot County (89.7% versus 85.0%). They also had higher median home values ($220,530 versus $134,148) and higher rates of bachelor degree attainment (24.9% versus 21.0%).

Of the ten Pivot Counties that had the lowest voter turnout in 2020, nine were Retained Pivot Counties and one was a Boomerang Pivot County. Two of these counties—Woodruff and Benson—were the only two Pivot Counties where turnout rates decreased from 2016.

These counties have larger percentage American Indian or Alaska Native populations than the average Pivot County (24.8% versus 3.9%). Three—Benson, Ziebach, and Corson—are located entirely or partly on an Indian reservation. The ten Pivot Counties with the lowest voter turnout rates also had larger percentage Black or African American populations (15.7% versus 7.9%), lower median home values ($81,110 versus $134,148), and higher percentages of persons living in poverty (24.7% versus 14.3%).

Nationwide, the voter turnout rate in the 2020 presidential election was 69.3%, the highest since 1900. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.8%, 1.5 points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.6%, 2.3 points above. Ballotpedia uses voting-age population estimates provided by the U.S. Census to calculate turnout.

For more information about turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here.

For more information about the demographics of these counties, click here.



Biden wins all six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted McCain-Romney-Clinton

Following the 2016 presidential election, Ballotpedia identified six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 after voting for John McCain (R) in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R) in 2012. 

All six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties voted for Biden in 2020.

These counties have a median population of 785,915. Voters there cast 4,015,613 ballots, representing 2.5% of all votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. All six are located in or near major metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Houston.

As of Dec. 11, Joe Biden (D) won all six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties by an average margin of 14.54 percentage points, roughly triple Clinton’s average margin of 4.96 in 2016.

The shift represents a continuing trend in these counties from supporting Republican presidential candidates towards supporting Democrats. Since 2008, when McCain won these counties, margins of victory have shifted 20.18 percentage points from Republicans to Democrats, on average.



A closer look at voter turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot counties

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. This year, we have introduced two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D).

Based on unofficial results that are subject to change, Ballotpedia has identified 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Voter turnout in these counties has increased compared to 2016.

Nationwide, voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election was the highest since 1900 at 69.25%. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.81%, 1.44 percentage points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.64%, 2.39 percentage points above the national rate.

The 2020 presidential election saw a continuation of the trend where turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties exceeds that in Retained Pivot Counties. In 2020, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties was 3.83 percentage points higher than the turnout in Retained Pivot Counties. Since 2008, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties has exceeded that in Retained Pivot Counties by an average of 3.95 percentage points.

Seventy-nine percent of Retained Pivot Counties (143) and 76% of Boomerang Pivot Counties (19) recorded their highest turnouts since at least 2008.

Nationwide, voter turnout increased by 8.21 percentage points compared to 2016. All Retained Pivot Counties except for two—Woodruff County, Arkansas, and Benson County, North Dakota—saw increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Voter turnout increased in every Boomerang Pivot County.

The table below shows the ten Pivot Counties with the largest increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Of the ten, nine are in states that automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to voters during the presidential election. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington routinely conduct all-mail elections. New Jersey conducted its 2020 presidential election by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Retained Pivot Counties are shown with red dots and Boomerang Pivot Counties with blue dots.



A closer look at the demographics of Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. This year, we have introduced two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D).

Based on unofficial results that are subject to change, Ballotpedia has identified 179 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

A detailed look at two characteristics, population and educational attainment, shows that Retained Pivot Counties are, on average, less populous and have lower rates of high school graduation and bachelor’s degree attainment compared to Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Collectively, Pivot Counties make up 4.9% of the U.S. population at 16,070,734. The 179 Retained Pivot Counties make up 70.9% of that total and the 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties make up the remaining 29.1%.

The average population of a Retained Pivot County is 63,615 compared to 186,852 for a Boomerang Pivot County. The nationwide county population average is 104,435. Since the 2016 presidential election, the population of Retained Pivot Counties decreased an average of 0.1% while the population of Boomerang Pivot Counties increased 1.0%.

The map below shows all Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties by population. Larger circles indicate more populous counties. The largest Retained Pivot County is Suffolk County, New York, with a population of 1,476,701. The largest Boomerang Pivot County is Pinellas County, Florida, with a population of 974,996.

For educational attainment, Ballotpedia examined high school graduation rates and bachelor’s degree attainment as a percentage of individuals 25 years and older. The table below highlights the averages of these demographics in 2020, 2016, and shows the change between those years.

On average, Boomerang Pivot Counties have a higher rate of high school graduation than Retained Pivot Counties, but a majority of both types of counties exceed the national high school graduation rate. Ninety-two percent of Boomerang Pivot Counties (23) exceed the national rate compared to 68% of Retained Pivot Counties (122). The table below shows the counties with the five highest and lowest high school graduation rates. Red dots indicate a Retained Pivot County and blue dots indicate a Boomerang Pivot County:

Boomerang Pivot Counties also have a higher rate of bachelor’s degree attainment than Retained Pivot Counties on average. Thirty-two percent of Boomerang Pivot Counties (8) have above average attainment rates compared to 3% (5) of Retained Pivot Counties. The table below shows the counties with the five highest and lowest bachelor’s degree attainment rates:

To learn more about the demographics of these counties, click here.



Four Pivot Counties flip from Trump to Biden as results continue to be updated

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016 by creating two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D). The analysis continues to shift as states certify their election results.

Since publishing our initial Pivot County analysis, four Retained Pivot Counties have flipped to become Boomerang Pivot Counties. Additionally, ten new counties have released vote totals, resulting in nine new Retained Pivot Counties and one new Boomerang Pivot County.

There are currently 179 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties. These numbers are still subject to change.

The four counties that flipped from Retained to Boomerang are all located in New York: Broome, Essex, Rensselaer, and Saratoga.

Based on current results, Biden’s margins of victory in Broome, Essex, and Rensselaer are lower than Obama’s in 2012, the last time a Democrat won these counties. Biden exceeded Obama’s 2012 margin in Saratoga County. The table below shows the unofficial results with vote totals in parentheses.

Biden also won Kennebec County, Maine, by a margin of 0.39 percentage points, less than Obama’s 2012 margin of 12.85 percentage points,

Trump won nine new Retained Pivot Counties, two in Mississippi and seven in Maine. Compared to 2016 results, his margins of victory increased in four and decreased in five. Those counties are listed below, split into those where his margin increased and those where it decreased:

Two counties—Alexander and Henderson, Illinois—have not yet released results.

Ballotpedia will continue to provide updates as results become available. For more information updated weekly, click here.



A closer look at historical margins of victory in Boomerang and Retained Pivot Counties

Following the 2016 presidential election, there were 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 before voting for Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

Based on unofficial 2020 results, there were 22 Boomerang Pivot Counties, which flipped to Joe Biden (D), and 174 Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again.

In 2016, Trump’s average margin of victory in what are now the 22 Boomerang Pivot Counties counties was 1.97 percentage points, 9.45 points fewer than his average across all Pivot Counties. By contrast, Obama overperformed in these counties, relative to his overall averages, in 2012 and 2008.

On the other hand, compared to 2016, Trump’s average margin of victory in the 174 Retained Pivot Counties increased by 2.15 percentage points. Trump had overperformed in the Retained Pivot Counties in 2016, exceeding his overall average margin of victory by 1.06 percentage points. Obama underperformed in these counties in 2008 and 2012.

To learn more about Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Election_results,_2020:_Boomerang_Pivot_Counties

To learn more about Retained Pivot Counties, click here: https://ballotpedia.org/Election_results,_2020:_Retained_Pivot_Counties