A fact I’ve seen reported on and off in the last week is that Barack Obama won Pennsylvania (with 2,907,448 votes to Mitt Romney’s 2,619,583 — all data from nytimes.com and is current as of the time this post was written) while only winning 11 of its 67 counties. When I first heard this it was twelve. The flipper is Centre County (home of Penn State), which went for Romney by twenty votes (out of 67,000 or so) while I’d seen it for Obama before. Go to the New York Times Pennsylvania results page for a map.
But of course we don’t elect the President by counting the number of counties that they won. And if you know one thing about Pennsylvania politics, it’s James Carville’s description of it as “Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle”.1 The twelve counties Obama won included the five most populous — in order, Philadelphia, Allegheny (Pittsburgh and inner suburbs), and the three counties bordering Philadelphia, namely Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware.
In fact Obama won counties with a total population of 6,673,237; Romney won counties with a total population of 6,029,142. He won 52.5% of this “electoral vote” compared to 52.6% of the actual vote.
I’d be interested to see what would happen if this analysis were done in all 50 states — but I had to scrape the data by hand from the New York Times web site, so don’t expect me to actually do that. I suspect it amplifies the differences, just as the electoral college does. To cherry-pick a bit, there are states where every county went the same way: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Hawaii for Obama; Utah, Oklahoma, and West Virginia for Romney. But even in Hawaii, Obama’s best state, he only got 70.6% of the vote; even in Utah, Romney’s best state, he only got 72.8% of the vote. Yet obviously the winning candidate won counties summing to 100% of the vote in these seven states.
(Why do I care about Pennsylvania politics? Because I’m from Pennsylvania.)
1. He actually said “Between Paoli and Penn Hills, Pennsylvania is Alabama without the blacks” but this statement doesn’t make sense without a map.