Election results driven by economic non-contributors

The results of the recent presidential election clearly demonstrated one of the weaknesses with the electoral college system. Mr. Trump, who lost the popular vote by two full percent points (2.9 million votes) became our 45th president. If one looks at the results through the lens of economic value to the country, his loss was even more dramatic.

The United States has 3,143 counties and county-equivalents, but they do not all contribute equally to the economic output of the country. Using personal income data obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and county-level vote tallies from Prof. Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, an analysis of the election results based on economic contribution was performed.(Data file available here.)

The first step was to clean the data. Notable manipulations included: eliminating Alaska from the analysis since voting data is only available on a state-wide basis and combining the vote tallies from a number of counties, mostly in Virginia, since the personal income data had these counties combined. When the manipulations were completed, the data set had 3,083 counties and county-equivalents.

The data were then sorted by total personal income in descending order. Thus, Los Angeles county, CA, was ranked first and Loving county, TX, was ranked 3,083. The data were then investigated to find the number of counties and percentage of GDP that supported Ms. Clinton. Note that percentage of GDP was calculated by multiplying each candidate’s percentage of votes won by the county’s total personal income.

Of the 3,083 counties in this study, 26 of them, less than 1% of the total number of counties, account for 25% of the country’s personal income. Of these 26 counties, 23 (which is 88%) supported Ms. Clinton. Using the proportional income approach, Ms. Clinton had the support of 67.9% of the income in these counties – a dominating 2:1 victory over Mr. Trump.

Continuing the analysis:

  • 50% of the country’s total personal income derives from 105 counties, or about 3.5% of the total number of counties in the county. Of these 105 counties, 89 (which is 85%) supported Ms. Clinton and using the proportional income approach, she had the support of 65% of the income – again, almost a 2:1 victory over Mr. Trump.
  • 75% of the country’s total personal income derives from 357 counties, or about 11.6% of the total number of counties in the county. Of these 357 counties, 198 (which is 55%) supported Ms. Clinton and using the proportional income approach, she had the support of 60% of the income.

At the national level, Ms. Clinton had the support of 476 counties and 54% of the total personal income.

What makes the results of the election so hard to swallow is that the overwhelming majority of the most productive segment of our country supported Ms. Clinton, but she lost because the least productive members of our society voted for her opponent. Basically, those who contribute the least and have the least to lose are driving the future of our country and this seems to be fundamentally wrong.