A Tale of Three Maps: How Obama Won States While Losing Counties

The state election results map shows a divided country. Map courtesy of Mark Newman.

With the presidential election a week behind us, poll watchers have been busy slicing and dicing voter information and election results.

Of particular interest to many is an analysis that shows although President Barack Obama won key states and the electoral college vote, the majority of the nation’s counties were in favor of Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

State and County Election Maps Tell Different Stories

At the center of some controversy are maps showing county by county voting patterns.

While the final state election map shows Obama carrying more than half the states, a county by county analysis shows most of the nation voted ‘red’ for Romney.

County election results map show most counties voted for Romney. Map courtesy of Mark Newman.

The county by county maps can appear startling at first glance, but county results can be deceiving. While more counties may have voted for Romney, the overall vote in a particular state could still be in favor of Obama. This is particularly true in states which are largely rural with the majority of their population centered in just a few counties.

For example, the county by county map of Michigan shows the vast majority of the state voted for Romney. However, Michigan’s population is concentrated in the greater metro Detroit area where voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. Voters in densely populated Wayne County and the surrounding counties offset Romney supporters from rural counties and helped Obama win 54 percent of Michigan’s popular vote.

Blended Map of Election Shows More Complete Picture

A flaw of many county-by-county maps is their tendency to designate counties as red or blue only. However, it is rare that counties vote entirely for one candidate. Instead, most counties have split votes.

This blended county map uses purples to show how many counties split their votes between Obama and Romney. Map courtesy of Mark Newman.

For a more accurate 2012 election results map, Mark Newman from the Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan suggests a blended map, which makes use of reds, blues and purples.

This map takes into consideration that many counties, even those that went for Romney, had a substantial number of Obama voters.

The blended map still shows pockets of staunch Romney support in the center of the country as well as overwhelmingly ‘blue’ counties along the coasts.

However, much of the country is colored shades of purple which more accurately represents the split nature of the 2012 presidential election vote.

2012 Election Results

Pundits and political watchdogs may continue to dissect the details of the 2012 presidential election in the months to come.

In the end, one truth may remain constant throughout the inevitable debate and controversies: the country is deeply divided over its choice of president. Obama may have won the electoral college vote decisively, but his critics are not likely to let him forget he only garnered 50.6 percent of the popular vote.


Newman, Mark. Election Maps. (2012). University of Michigan. Accessed November 14, 2012.

Google Politics. Election Results. (2012). Accessed November 14, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Maryalene LaPonsie, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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    • ed says

      Yes we do like Obama. What some people can’t seem to get through their thick Fox news watching skulls is that most think he’s done a good job. Look at his approval ratings. Statistics don’t lie.

  1. Bill Norris says

    Show me any republicans that denounce infrastructure projects. The only ones they typically denounce are ones that are not needed. Case in point, Obama needed the first Trillion dollar stimulus, partly for ingrastructure. Remember the shovel ready projects? That was wasted money, because it wasn’t used on infrastructure but on wasteful projects that failed. Today, he wants another 300 billion for infrastructure on the backs of our already depleted military. A military that is on food stamps just like the ’70’s. Reagan turned that around and we came back from the brink during the ’80’s. Infrastructure is another word for waste in the liberal dictionary. Nice try though.

  2. Alex says

    Tyler car, there’s bound to be a proper name for the debating tactic in which you take the fact that condemns your own side and apply it to your opposition. You’ve done that here. Most people would call it lying.
    Even after the election the media was still beating the “racism equals white” drum, and usually I ignore it. But the pampered welfare thieves have the time to rule these chat rooms online, so I answer your lie. After work.
    Glenn knows where crime is concentrated far above what the population density would indicate, and so do you. It runs hand-in-hand with a moral desert where people expect to be cared for by other people who work for what they have. That’s the cities we are so oftened exhorted to aid.
    Lack of morals, got it? If you live to take advantage of someone else, it will show up in violence and unemployment.
    There is one way you may eventually be right, though. Rigging the crime statistics by screaming “racism” every time a welfare queen robs, rapes or murders someone will skew things your way. If a crime isn’t logged on the police blotter, did it happen?

  3. J. Lawson says

    I have read all of the notes above and being an independent. now I know why, after reading Steve Garcia’s message sounds all great an all but I have one great big question for you WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR ALL OF YOUR URBAN LIFE STYLE????? We are already 16plus Trillion That is Trillion in Deabt and it is going up by the seacond. WHO PAYS. And dont forget the places you are making fun of FEED YOU or do you think food really does grow in the stores. Before you start throwing stones you might go live in a farmers shoes from the midwest for a year or two and see how you like it. Its called real work.

  4. M. Schroeder says

    It is amazing to view the stupidity of the majority of the comments. Nowhere did I see anything that tells us how all the government the “Blue” wants is going to be paid for. There are plenty of comments on how people in the rural areas are “stupid” and “don’t get” what the big city people want. At least the people in the RED typically know how to balance a check book. And all those wheat and corn fields out there…all you libs try living with the folks that are GROWING YOUR FOOD and know how to balance a checkbook. I have yet to ask a liberal how they are going to pay for all this stuff, and all I get is a “Deer in the Headlights” look, or “Tax the Rich”. Sure, let’s get that 3 or 4% back from the Clinton days, and run the government for 8 or 9 more days. Idiots. We have an illiterate voting block who act like pigs at the trough. How about EVERYONE getting in the game, pay a little bit, but nothing at all? The Dems have known for a long time if you can appeal the “gimme'” mentality of voters in large urban areas you can control the election. Until true election reform occurs there will be little or no change in the government. And folks, enjoy the free ride as anyone with in IQ over 10 knows that it will be short lived. Santa Clause won the election, and you can’t beat a Santa Clause with an illiterate electorate because money DOES grown on trees.

  5. N. roby says

    It’s amazing how people broke as hell consider themselves as republicans. And must I remind stanky bigots that Romney insulted 47% of America, not blacks alone, that may even include people like you mr. glenny.

  6. Steve Garcia says

    Looking at these maps without looking at earlier elections, too, does not put any of this information into any context whatsoever. I have seen such maps since I was a young boy – a long time ago. Rural states and rural counties always make the GOP look like it should win the elections. But cornfields and wheat fields and ranch lands do not vote. Humans vote. And humans have tended strongly to congregate in cities. Ergo, urban counties produce many more votes. Cities tend also to need more infrastructure, such as bus systems, transit trains, water treatment plants – all things conservative rural people have come to think of as socialistic. But the urban citizens see the clear need for those things, things that allow people to live in closer proximity to one another. Urban counties also happen to have more jobs, associated with businesses, which businesses benefit from the closer interconnectedness of services ans workers. Being where the jobs are also makes urban counties where the highest unemployment occurs when the economy has a downturn. These things are all related. Rural counties tend to have whites and almost whites alone, partly because of their histories of settlement and their often very real antipathy to latinos and blacks. These areas are insular and provincial (meaning more or less that they see things from a small-town perspective and cannot easily understand the interconnectedness of urban areas and urban people.

    Democrats support more and better infrastructure. Urban dwellers recognize this and vote accordingly. Republicans in all elections I know about dating to the 1960s have denigrated improvements in the cities – ideas the rural voters support – and they are welcome to do so. But then they have to accept that they are losing many votes in the process.

    There is nothing new under the sun about rural counties – which outnumber urban counties handily – voting Republican (conservative). This article is basically pointless, covering ground that has been well known since cities and elections began.

    For a site ostensibly about science, I am appalled at the ignorance shown by most of the commenters here. If they come to learn something, they would do well to sit quietly and inform themselves for quite a long time before opening their maws and showing their ignorance. If they come to stir trouble, well, that is even more pathetic…

  7. Dina says

    “For example, the county by county map of Michigan shows the vast majority of the state voted for Romney.” Only if by “vast majority” you mean open land. On the other hand the “vast majority” (well, 54%) of Michigan PEOPLE voted for Barack Obama. You have to be careful how you use your words, you’ll just confuse the people who live in the red areas.

  8. Tyler car says

    Actually Glenn, I found that in Romney voters. They live in uneducated southern counties destroyed by drug and alcohol abuse. They are not smart enough to learn another skill so their homes just fall apart. They are consistently the highest unemployment rates and they need someone to blame.

  9. EdialbertoJil says

    Hello folks firs of all America has a voice , a choise an a election and seems to me that the results are there , America voted , and their will should be respected whether we like or not or other wise America would not be a nation where the gov is elected by the people having said that lets be respectfull to the poeples will . Now if the republicans want to be in the white house for the next election they need to stop diving the country with their negative talks like limball and his dirty words against the other party because in the the other voters are America a free people with freedom to vote so get limball out of the radio station bacuse you could lose more votes next time;;;,,,,,,, talk possitive and be happy with the American voise if you want your voice to have a possitive impact when the party you want wings ,, this is America folks Free

  10. Mike says

    Glenn — you need not say anything else to prove you are a racist. There is more crime where there are more people. That’s obvious, and you are confusing correlation and causation., you bigot.

  11. Don says

    It is startling to see how few counties he won. His support is centered in urban areas. This where the democrats focused there political machine. Get out the vote. Is there really that big of a divide between rural American and urban America or is this where all the minority voters lived. Minority voters overwhelming voted for Obama. It appears that Obama and his political machine are polarizing American like never before seen.

    • says

      Remind me of his polarizing comments or his policies that have negatively targeted the rual areas. Has he dismantled the farm subsidy, or dismantled the rural health initiative? What has he done or said that is so polarizing to the rural community.

  12. Glenn Woodruff says

    Those areas that voted for President Obama like the metro Detroit area are also know for their high crime and high welfare rates. Need i say anything else?

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