Republicans and Democrats were less divided in the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden than in the 2016 contest.

But only slightly. 

In the last two elections — contests that were extremely close nationally — most people lived in communities where the final vote wasn’t close at all.

In 2016, 62% of voters lived in a county either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points or more. This year, 58.2% of voters lived in one of these landslide counties. 

The percentage of people living in a landslide county has been increasing since the mid-1970s. In the very close 1976 contest between Democrat Jimmy Carter and incumbent Republican Gerald Ford, about 26% of voters lived in one of these politically lopsided counties. That percentage increased steadily through the decades. In 1992, 37.7% lived in a landslide county. In 1996, 42%. In 2004, 48.3%, which increased to 50.6% in 2012.

(In figuring these percentages, we eliminated third-party votes.)

Then there was the big jump to 62% in 2016, dropping back just a little bit to this year’s 58.2%.

Robert Cushing and I wrote a book about this phenomenon a dozen years ago called The Big Sort. We showed how Americans were clustering into increasingly like-minded groups – at church, in their search for news, when buying things and in the communities where they live.

The map above shows how Americans have sorted. Dark red counties are where Trump won by 20 points or more this November. Light red counties are where Trump won but the margin was under 20 points.

Dark blue counties are where Biden won by more than 20 points. Light blue counties are where Biden won, but the race was more competitive.

There were few places in rural America where the presidential race was at all competitive. Nearly eight in 10 rural voters (77.3%) live in a landslide county, about the same as four years ago.

Nationally, 77% of all counties this year were won in a landslide. Four years ago, 79% of counties were won by 20 points or more.

The most Republican urban county was Armstrong County, Texas, which is a suburb of Amarillo, with 93.2% of voters siding with Trump. The most Republican rural county was Roberts County in the Texas Panhandle, where 96.9% of the vote went for President Trump. Only 17 people there voted for the Democrat.

There was a tie for the most Democratic rural county. Both Jefferson and Claiborne counties in Mississippi cast 86.2% of their votes for Biden. The most Democratic urban county was Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. Biden won 91.1% of the vote there.

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