According to a Brookings study, in the 2016 election, Trump won only 36% of the country’s economic output while Hillary Clinton secured 472 counties that contributed to almost two-thirds of the nation’s economy. Even with Clinton carrying the majority of economically powerful divisions, her campaign was defeated by Trump’s success within the Electoral College.

2020 Presidential Election

The data emerging out of the results of the 2020 Presidential Election indicates the stark contrast between Red and Blue Americas. The rift is one that is in need of substantial mending. The nation’s economic landscape is and remains obdurately disunited.

This trend extended on to the 2020 election with a different result for the Democratic Party. Winning the electoral college and the population vote, Joe Biden reached 477 counties that produce 70% of the nation’s economic functioning, whereas Trump’s won 2,497 counties that reflected 29% of America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Image: Brookings

Depicted in this graphic, Biden essentially won the preponderance of counties with the largest economies. 

Brookings Senior Fellow Mark Muro told Newsweek,  “Biden won 94 of the biggest GDP counties, while Trump won only six: New York’s Nassau and Suffolk counties; Texas’ Collin County; California’s Kern County; and Oklahoma’s Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.”

Biden even flipped financially prominent counties Trump won in 2016, such as Jacksonville, Florida’s Duval County; Phoenix’s Maricopa County; New Jersey’s Morris County; Dallas-Fort Worth’s Tarrant County; and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida’s Pinellas County.

Trump’s reelection campaign was predicated on his economic achievements prior to the pandemic. However, data has revealed that Trump inherited a robust economy from the Obama administration. Trump’s twofold strategy involved taking credit for the strength of the economy that was largely determined by his predecessor. Additionally,  instead of targeting counties encompassing America’s affluence, Trump demonized urban counties in order to capture the votes from small, rural communities with reduced economies. 

Economic Inequality and Voting Patterns

According to Brookings, Biden’s counties tended to be “far more diverse, educated, and white-collar professional, with their aggregate nonwhite and college-educated shares of the economy running to 35% and 36%.” Economic inequality is rampant, not only among voting citizens but also between the electors pledged to support their candidate. A National Review article illustrated how an assessment regarding income inequality amid electors of American Presidents has steadily increased since the early 2000s. 

Image: National Review

These calculations are based on the assumption that “each elector’s personal income is equal to their state’s per capita personal income…As a matter of historical fact, the incomes of those who comprised each state’s Electoral College delegation certainly vary. But the state’s per capita income captures the income typical among the general population that each state’s electors represent.” 

According to National Review, the recent increase in income inequality is due to state economies venturing to partition, as America has reached an extreme partisan polarization– one that resembles the Civil War era. 

This economic breach alludes to the fact that both persisting oppositions between political parties will continue to divide the country and maintain this sense of eternal conflict. As stated by recent Brookings study, Democrats and Republicans stand for unreservedly opposite ends of the economy. 

“Democrats represent voters who overwhelmingly reside in the nation’s diverse economic centers, and thus tend to prioritize housing affordability, an improved social safety net, transportation infrastructure, and racial justice. Jobs in blue America also disproportionately rely on national R&D investment, technology leadership, and services exports. 

By contrast, Republicans represent an economic base situated in the nation’s struggling small towns and rural areas. Prosperity there remains out of reach for many, and the party sees no reason to consider the priorities and needs of the nation’s metropolitan centers. That is not a scenario for economic consensus or achievement.” 

Examining the Urban-Rural Divide

The geographic patterns of economic production and privilege indicate an urban-rural divide. Patterns of spatial distribution are linked to partisan views, often specific communities operate and organize according to similar values, beliefs, and increasingly, socioeconomic status.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the urban-rural divide rushed into the political consciousness. The formation of the pattern is rooted in Industrial America, whereby Democrats won the support of workers and unions in city centers. Today, while urban centers have transformed into skilled, technical, and knowledge-based labor, the Democrats have retained control of these areas whereas Republican alliances remain strong in urban centers.

The consequence of this development has been twofold, firstly, the Democrat base has changed from a primarily working-class one to an educated, liberal, and, in some cases, academic and elitist one. The Democratic party, which was initially a party for workers, is now perceived as abandoning the very foundation it is based upon in favor of relatively privileged urban constituents. 

Secondly, the divide has led to a disproportionate voting pattern. According to Stanford Scholar Jonathan Rodden, “Democrats often win a greater share of votes than their share of seats, especially in the states of the Midwest, where it is commonplace for the Democrats to win statewide elections without coming anywhere near a majority in the state legislature or the congressional delegation.” In the United States, the practice of “partisan gerrymandering” further exacerbates this process. 

Yet, the divide is far more complex than patterns of industrialization, dying industries, outsourcing, and the growth of urban centers. According to an article in the Washington Post, “The contest between rural and urban America is rigged. Official definitions are regularly updated in such a way that rural counties are continually losing their most successful places to urbanization [as officially classified]. When a rural county grows, it transmutes into an urban one.”

This affects statistics and national perceptions of rural areas, which, due to this classification, may have higher rates of substance abuse, poverty, unemployment, and suicide. Prosperity remains confined to urban centers, as areas begin to thrive, rising property prices and other economic factors push out workers who do not possess advanced skills or college degrees. Prosperous areas and urban or “metro” centers are likely to possess parks, libraries, and accessible groceries, thereby improving the quality of life and overall mental wellbeing of those who reside in these centers. 

Rectifying Economic Inequality  

The economic and regional income inequality that we are witnessing is difficult to rectify because it has a structural basis. The growth of the 1% as well as the concentration of new industries, power, and capital in specific geographic regions that comprise small but powerful clusters is, to some extent, an organic pattern that requires targeted policy targeted policy in order to be rectified.

Patterns of economic development have largely been a consequence of a range of factors that have developed organically, some of these being outsourcing, industrial disruption, the tech boom and digital advancement. Rectifying inequality will require targeted policy. This can be achieved through federal investment in communities that are in decline.

Providing capital to businesses in sparsely populated areas is one way of addressing disparity. Investing in education, increasing access to digital infrastructure and internet, enhancing the digital skills of communities through training and education as well as providing access to the internet are also ways to breathe life back into struggling areas. 

Polarization and Gridlock 

Economic inequality forms the basis for polarization and partisanship in America. Even while the pendulum of American politics swings between the two parties, increasing polarization and diverging levels of prosperity create an imbalance in constituencies. 

Brookings emphasizes how Trump’s “anti-establishment appeal” emphasizes the disconnect and resentment between rural communities and the nation’s top economic centers, as he berates those who do not play for his team.  If this pattern of antagonism vs communal uplift continues, our nation will further face dysfunctional regimes and economic chaos. 

Even with a Democratic win, the gridlock in the senate makes real progress and swift implementation of legislation difficult. America’s political landscape is no longer about the next election or about who sits in the white house. It’s about how the concentration of capital has given rise to two specific camps with their own sets of beliefs and values and the growing resentment between them. Urban centers are, by their very nature, sites of growth and development, however, the lack of federal control exerted over economic development has given rise to a hazardous set of conditions.

Ultimately and simplistically, this polarization is a consequence of poverty and access. Increasing access and revitalizing declining sites is the antidote to poverty and polarization. In a country like the United States, policy, redistribution, and initiative, and most importantly, leadership have the potential to begin the process of bridging this chasm.