An electronic billboard displays a vote hashtag at Times Square in New York. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Trump’s vote share increased in half of all metro areas compared to Romney.

The United States is a big country and its political divides are long-standing. But as this year’s election reminds us, its presidents can be elected by small shifts in a small number of places. Understanding those shifts is key not just to understanding the election of Donald Trump but the fissures and fault-lines of American politics.

In two previous posts, I charted and mapped the 2016 vote across America’s metros. In this third part of my series on the vote at the metro level, I take a deeper dive into the metros that went for Trump versus Clinton, looking at the metros where each of them gained or lost the largest share of votes compared to Romney and Obama in 2012.

As I noted previously, election returns are not typically collated by metro area, but county-level results are available. My Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleagues arrayed the county-level data to the country’s 381 metros using data from two sources. Our main source was Dave Leip’s county-level election results. Where data was missing, we used information from Simon Rogers, data editor at Google who previously created The Guardian’s Datablog. (Again I note that while there are still some vote tallies yet to be certified, the overall shares of the vote at the metro level are unlikely to change much at this point).

The map below, by MPI’s Taylor Blake, compares the metro vote in 2016 to that of 2012, showing where Clinton and Trump gained or lost the largest shares of the vote compared to Obama and Romney in 2012. Clinton metros are in blue, Trump metros are in red; darker colors show larger vote shares than Obama or Romney. The height of the columns reflects the 2016 margin of victory—the number of votes earned over their opponent.

(Taylor Blake)

Trump not only won more metros than Clinton, but many more than Romney, often with higher vote shares. The darkest reds—places where Trump’s share is more than 10 percent higher than Romney’s—are concentrated in the Rustbelt.

Clinton won most of the large metros, racking up large vote tallies and large margins. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Atlanta, she increased the share of votes earned by Obama in 2012. In New York, Chicago, Miami, and Seattle, she won by a large margin despite earning less of the vote share than Obama.

Where Trump Did Better Than Romney

Trump gained votes over Romney in more than half of metros (53 percent, or 202 of 381) and nearly a fifth (10 of 53) of large metros. The table below lists the only ten large metros where Trump gained a higher percent of votes compared to Romney.

Large Metros Areas Where Trump Gained More Votes Over Romney

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY


Providence-Warwick, RI-MA


Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI


Cleveland-Elyria, OH


St. Louis, MO-IL


Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL


Rochester, NY


New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA


Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT


Pittsburgh, PA


The list is dominated by Rustbelt metros including Buffalo, Providence, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Rochester, Hartford, and Pittsburgh as well as Greater New York and Tampa. Despite his gains in vote share over Romney, Trump lost seven of these ten metros, winning only St. Louis, Tampa, and Pittsburgh.

Trump’s largest gains came from smaller and medium sized metros, again mainly in the Rustbelt. He improved his margin by more than 10 percent over Romney in Weirton-Steubenville, West Virginia-Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio; and Scranton, Pennsylvania; and by between 8 and 10 percent in Wheeling, West Virginia; Monroe, Michigan; Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; Terre Haute, Indiana; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Kokomo, Indiana; and Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH. He increased his vote share over Romney by more than 5 percent in 43 metros (11 percent of the total metros), again largely in the Rustbelt, including Canton and Toledo, Ohio; Erie and Altoona Pennsylvania; and Flint, Michigan.

Where Trump Did Worse Than Romney

Despite his big gains in these places, there are also many metros where Trump did worse than Romney. Trump lost vote share over Romney in 179 metros (47 percent) overall and in 80 percent (43 of 53) of large metros. The table below lists the ten large metros where Trump lost the most votes compared to Romney.

Large Metros by Where Trump Lost the Most Votes Compared to Romney

Salt Lake City, UT


Austin-Round Rock, TX


San Diego-Carlsbad, CA


Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX


San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA


Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA


Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ


Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA


Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH


Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA


Trump lost a whopping 25 percent of the vote compared to Romney in Salt Lake City; he lost roughly 8 percent more in Austin and San Diego; and between 5 and 7 percent more in the rest, including Houston, San Jose, L.A., Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, and Sacramento, which were all among the top ten, as well as Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Portland, Denver, and Chicago.

Trump suffered even larger losses compared to Romney in smaller and medium sized metros in Utah and Idaho, seeing more than 30 percent declines in Provo-Orem, Logan, and Ogden, and double digit declines in St. George and Idaho Falls as well.

Trump also took smaller shares of the vote in a series of metros in the GOP mainstays of Texas and Arizona. In Texas, he captured smaller shares of the vote compared to Romney in El Paso (-7.2 percent), Houston (-6.7 percent), College Station-Bryan (-6.4 percent), and Dallas-Fort Worth (-5.4 percent). In Arizona, he lost votes compared to Romney in Yuma (-7.4 percent), Phoenix (-5.9 percent), Flagstaff (-5.4 percent), and Tucson (-5.2 percent).

Where Clinton Did Worse Than Obama

The even bigger story of this election may be the metros where Clinton lost votes compared to Obama. She gathered less of the vote than Obama in nearly 90 percent of metros (335 of 381) and she lost vote share in 35, or roughly two-thirds of large metros (she won 23 of them).

The table below shows the top ten large metros where Clinton lost vote share compared to Obama in 2012.

Large Metros Where Clinton Lost Votes Compared to Obama

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY


Providence-Warwick, RI-MA


Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI


Cleveland-Elyria, OH


Rochester, NY


St. Louis, MO-IL


Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL


Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT


Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV


Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA


The large metros where Clinton lost votes to Obama are mainly in the Rustbelt, notably Buffalo, Providence, Detroit, Cleveland, Rochester, St. Louis, and Hartford. But she also lost between 3 and 4 percent of the vote share compared to Obama in Columbus, Pittsburgh, New York, and Louisville; between 2 and 3 percent compared to Obama in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Grand Rapids; and between one and two percent of the vote in Kansas City, Birmingham, Memphis, and Milwaukee. Outside the Rustbelt, she lost around 2 percent vote share compared to Obama in Tampa, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Portland, Oklahoma City, Denver, Nashville, Seattle, and Charlotte.

Clinton lost by even larger margins than Obama in small and medium-sized metros. Her vote share was 5 percent or more lower than Obama in 153 metro areas (47 percent) and more than ten percent lower in 36 metro areas (11 percent). She lost by 15 percent compared to Obama in Weirton-Steubenville, West Virginia-Ohio and Youngstown, Ohio-Pennsylvania; between 10 and 15 percent in metros like Monroe and Flint, Michigan; Huntington, Mansfield, Canton, and Toledo, Ohio; Watertown, Utica, Glens Falls, and Elmira, New York; and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Erie, Johnstown, and Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Where Clinton Did Better than Obama

However, there are also places where Clinton did better than Obama. Clinton increased her percentage share of the vote over Obama in 45 metros (12 percent) and one-third (18 of 53) of large metros.

The table below shows the top ten large metros where Clinton gained the most votes over Obama in 2012. Her largest gains came in metropolitan areas in large Texas metros—Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and large California metros—San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose—as well Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and Boston.

Large Metros where Clinton Gained the Most Votes Compared to Obama

Austin-Round Rock, TX


San Diego-Carlsbad, CA


Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX


Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA


San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA


Salt Lake City, UT


Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX


Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA


San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX


Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH


Clinton saw smaller gains in vote share compared to Obama in Tucson (1.8 percent), Raleigh (1.4 percent), San Francisco (1.3 percent), Phoenix (1.1 percent), Washington, D.C. (0.9 percent), Sacramento (0.3 percent), and Orlando (0.1 percent).

Across all metros, Clinton also increased her share over Obama in Provo-Orem, Utah (4.2 percent), Yuma, Arizona (4.1 percent), Logan, Utah (3.6 percent), El Paso, Texas (3.6 percent), Odessa, Texas (3.1 percent), Bridgeport, Connecticut (3.1 percent). Her vote share increased by between 2 and 3 percent in El Centro, California (2.3 percent), Athens, Georgia (2.3 percent), Ogden, Utah (2.1 percent), and Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California (2.0 percent).


The pattern of the metro election is clear. Clinton won the largest metros, but Trump carried more of them as well as rural places. Clinton support was concentrated in the Boston-New York-Washington Corridor, the West Coast, Miami and Chicago, while Trump took Sunbelt and Rustbelt metros. Clinton lost support compared to Obama in many metros, while Trump gained support over Romney in critical metros, especially in key Rustbelt swing states.

As I noted here in 2013, presidential politics turns less on swing states and much more on its metro areas—a process that the University of Southern California political scientist Jeffery Sellers dubs “metropolitanization.” The key differentiator—the new “swing states" so to speak—are the ranks of economically distressed smaller and medium sized metros, and especially the growing ranks of economically distressed suburbs within them. These are the places that are most likely to shift between elections.

As Sellers notes, economically distressed communities in red states tend to lean left, while disadvantaged suburbs in blue states increasingly vote for the right. As I noted then, “Democrats face an uphill battle in urban neighborhoods and minority-majority suburbs closer to the urban center.”

I also quoted an email Sellers wrote to me where he said: "Turnout in the Democratic urban and minority strongholds, and shifts among middle class and distressed suburbs are the decisive swing factors in U.S. national elections." He was right: Democratic turnout was low in many of the former places, while many of the latter swung decisively for Trump.

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