In the modern era of presidential politics, no candidate has ever won the popular vote by more than Hillary Clinton did this year, yet still managed to lose the electoral college. In that sense, 2016 was a historic split: Donald Trump won the presidency by as much as 74 electoral votes (depending on how Michigan ends up) while losing the nationwide vote to Clinton by 1.7 million votes and counting.

But there’s another divide exposed by the election, which researchers at the Brookings Institution recently discovered as they sifted the election returns. It has no bearing on the election outcome, but it tells us something important about the state of the country and its politics moving forward.

The divide is economic, and it is massive. According to the Brookings analysis, the less-than-500 counties that Clinton won nationwide combined to generate 64 percent of America’s economic activity in 2015. The more-than-2,600 counties that Trump won combined to generate 36 percent of the country’s economic activity last year.

Clinton, in other words, carried nearly two-thirds of the American economy.

So what does this data tell us?  What does it tell us moving forward?

According to the WaPo:

In between those elections, U.S. economic activity has grown increasingly concentrated in large, “superstar” metro areas, such as Silicon Valley and New York.

How will Trump keep his promises to return the coal industry and jobs to areas that don’t have the money and aren’t the population centers?  He has a tall order before him.


12 Thoughts to “New economic election discoveries”

  1. NorthofNokesville

    The economic divide is more meaningful than the electoral college / popular vote divide. Dems are making rhetorical hay out of the popular vote, but (a) tough crap the rules have been set a long time and for some good reasons and (b) there is no such thing as a neutral institution when it comes to preference aggregation. Simply, the popular vote would be different if the EC didn’t exist. In places like California and New York, you might see a major improvement in Republican turnout as GOP voters with no hope of mattering in a local or state election find renewed purpose. Could be the same in deep red states for Democrat voters. You’d also see different candidate behavior, with a focus on cities / population centers, not states.

    You are correct Trump will have some hard times making good on some of these promises. If we had a sensible energy policy, we’d be doubling and tripling down on fourth-gen nuclear tech (France, Green France, is doing it), not subsidizing BS that doesn’t deserve it while getting out of the way, and getting ourselves off coal as new reactors come online. Seriously, that fiasco is one of two HUGE sins to be laid at the feet of environmentalists (DDT the other… a third world massacre of good intentions). And the jobs Trump thinks he can bring back aren’t sustainable in the way they existed, either. Education (and mobility) will be more important and lasting. This is where his advisors and “doers” down in the policy gears can exert positive influence. Not sure I’m seeing that yet. More the contrary.

  2. Starryflights

    What it tells me is that Trump supporters are among the country’s unemployed or underemployed.

    Here’s a thought – how about coal miners and other rust belt citizens develop skills for jobs that pay more? Why in the hell would anybody want to work in a coal mine? Aren’t there better ways to make a living that are safer, more interesting and pay more? Of course there are. But people need to acquire skills from their own individual effort. Government can’t provide people with job skills. That is an individual responsibility.

    1. Government could make low interest or no interest programs available for people to re-educate themselves. On the more practical side, often re-skilling involves moving to another location. That might be ok for young folks but established folks just dont have that kind of mobility.

      I don’t know what the answer is but it isn’t just as simple as taking a couple of computer courses at some community college. It’s almost learning a whole new way of life for some folks.

      1. NorthofNokesville


        Agree, it’s not just education, it’s mindset… the skill of being able to acquire new skills. And mobility is key. Just upskilling doesn’t mean your in a physical place to take advantage of it. Remote work is growing popularity, but it’s still the exception rather than the rule.

        Another location challenge is services. As populations “gray” service consumption around healthcare in particular goes up, but the economics for the providers get worse. At a certain point, a location becomes unsustainable and folks who choose continue living there tacitly accept the trade off.

        Low/no interest loans may help but are not a panacea. That kind of incentive is how you get things like for-profit schools that accept loans but provide questionable value (fluffy bullshit courses and credit/certificate programs few employers value). Contrast with something like NVCC, which has a large HVAC skilling program – not sexy, but that’s job security.

    2. Kelly_3406


      My grandfather worked in the coal mines of Appalachia. In the 50 years since he retired, the area has not changed much at all. Even if these people had the mind-set to acquire new skills, where would they use them? They would have to move away from the mountains into large cities, which is unthinkable to many of them.

      I agree that it is not the government’s job to provide new skills. But what the government could do is provide tax breaks to companies that open offices/factories in these impoverished areas.

      These are proud, hard-working people who are fiercely independent. Wages are quite low, so it would seem like a good investment for companies to employ these people. My guess is that the regulatory environment, plus the high cost of Obamacare has encouraged companies to move overseas rather than to these impoverished areas.

      1. Part of the problem with inner cities is people who came looking for work without job skills.

  3. Steve Thomas

    I think you are overlooking the possibility of an energy independent US, especially in light of the recent discovery of huge oil reserves in Texas. Our problems to date centered on over-regulation which hinder production and expansion.
    Put simply, make America 100% energy independent. In the short term, crank up domestic production while continuing to reduce demand through the perfection of alternatives like nuclear, wind, solar, Tidal. Take a page from Iceland and tap geothermal in volcanic areas out west. Completely divest from non-North American petroleum making OPEC irrelevant and reducing our interests in the middle-east. Export energy to friendly nations like Japan.
    A bold energy sector policy that relies on proven technologies while encouraging development of emerging technologies will create jobs, stimulate the economy, and drive rebuilding of our supporting infrastructure. The greenies have had their day, and their say. Time to move in a different direction.

    1. Geothermal is excellent but it is very expensive to start up and maintain. Lots of gouging once the systems are in. My brother had it and it cost him an arm and leg to repair.

      1. NorthofNokesville


        Geothermal, wind, solar, tidal right now are cost prohibitive at any real scale, in part because of collection and also because of storage/transmission (and battery tech is getting better all the time, driven largely by Japanese companies where this is an existential issue, but not standalone sustainable yet). Nuclear should be the choice of the future. It’s a quasi-religious emotional issue for a lot of greens, but some with brains and a long-view (checkout Stewart Brand again) get how important it is. His discussion in “Whole Earth Discipline” is on-point. France is 75% nuclear and the world’s largest net exporter of energy. We could take a page from that book.

        I don’t think going off the world grid makes sense. I like having the capacity to be totally independent while normal operations mean buying from the cheapest source. It’s like food, or cars, or clothes… we could do it all here, but that’s not a very efficient policy since we forego gains from trade. And this is a lesson that the ascendant right needs to keep in mind every bit as much as the left: trade is a good thing. Economically, it brings prosperity, and it tends to bring peace. Over the longer term, it underwrites cultural and social intermingling.

  4. Robin Hood

    The problem with energy development has been the temptation to cut corners on safety and that ends up with its own set of costs, such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico about six years ago. Our people need the jobs and they need the safety to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Safety enforcement can provide jobs too.

  5. Pat.Herve

    Technology has moved into every industry – and has removed the need for labor in all areas.

    Our companies have moved labor intensive jobs off shore – at a fraction of the price of US labor. They are also using tax avoidance techniques – but still want the protection of the US on the open seas by protecting shipping lanes. We have also embraced the notion of bringing in cheap labor – and allowing them to undercut middle class jobs. All the while the former workers (carpenters, plumbers, electricians) can no longer afford to work and maintain a middle class living. Our country has done nothing to stem the influx of immigrants since the 80’s. All the while companies have manipulated the system by paying the workers with cash and having no employees. Hire someone to do a job and you have a ‘contractor’ show up. No service company has employees anymore – another tax avoidance scheme.

    1. I guess this is the down side of technology. After there are a lot of downsides.

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