Barack Obama’s advantage over John McCain totalled 8 million votes. One out of seven of those votes came from Cook County, Illinois, where Obama won by more than 1.1 million votes. Here some of Sen. Obama’s neighbors wait in Grant Park for the final tally on Election Day night.
Photo: Taekwonweirdo

How much did Sen. Barack Obama depend on urban votes to win the presidency? This much:

John McCain built a 5 million-vote advantage in 2,553 rural and exurban counties. Obama wiped out that margin in just ten urban counties. (See list of both candidates’ top 15 counties below.)

(Editor’s Note: See an updated listed and map of the counties that switched parties from the 2004 presidential contest to this year’s election. Go here for a full accounting of all flipping counties.)

It is, of course, misleading to consider only Obama’s city votes as crucial to his victory. After all, the president-elect won more than 9 million votes in rural America. Without those, he wouldn’t be selecting his cabinet today.

Barack Obama won because voters in each of the nation’s 3114 counties supported him. But the distribution of that support wasn’t evenly spread around the country. Obama won 873 counties, and his largest margins of victory came in the nation’s biggest cities, where he topped John McCain by landslide margins.

(Alaska isn’t included in this analysis. The state does not collect votes by county.)

For instance, one out of seven of the 8 million votes that separated Obama from Sen. John McCain came from one county. Voters in Cook County, Illinois — the center of Chicago — provided their Hyde Park neighbor with a cushion of more than 1.1 million votes.

More than half of President-elect Obama’s victory margin came from votes cast in just seven counties — all of them from the centers of the nation’s largest urban regions. Los Angeles County gave Obama a 1.2 million-vote margin. Other big contributors to the Democrat were Philadelphia County (Philadelphia), Wayne County (Detroit), New York County (Manhattan), Kings County (Brooklyn) and King County (Seattle).

Obama’s vote in the nation’s largest urban counties was overwhelming. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, on the edge of Washington, D.C., the Democrat received 9 out of ten votes. Obama received more than 80 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, Manhattan, San Francisco and the Bronx.

The story of the election, however, was the overwhelming support the Democrats received in the cities. The chart below compares the vote in rural, urban and exurban America in 2004 and 2008. (Democratic victory margins in blue, Republican victory margins in red.)

McCain’s margins in rural and exurban counties were less than what President Bush earned in ’04. But Obama’s victory margin from urban communities increased by nearly 10 million votes over what John Kerry received in 2004.

Use this chart to compare vote totals in rural, urban and exurban counties from 2004 and 2008.

Overall, Obama won just under 57 percent of the urban vote. In rural counties, however, the president-elect received only 41.3 percent of the vote.

Here are the 15 counties where Barack Obama ran up his largest margins:

McCain’s best county was Maricopa in his home of Phoenix. McCain won Maricopa by 116,000 votes over Obama.

Here are the Republican’s 15 best counties. Two of those counties are exurban; six of the counties are in Texas or Oklahoma.

But where Obama increased the Democratic Party’s margins over 2004 in Cook County, McCain didn’t fare as well in Maricopa as did George W. Bush in the last election.

Obama won Cook County by more than 1.1 million votes. In ’04, Kerry took Cook County by 842,000 votes.

George Bush won Maricopa by 175,000 votes, 60,000 more than McCain’s margin this year.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.