The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A few counties tell a clear story: Donald Trump’s predictions were right

Trump supporters cheer at an election night event in New York. (Jabin Botsford /The Washington Post)

Regardless of how many electoral votes Donald Trump gets, he won a stunning victory on Tuesday night. He'd said that he would do better than the polls showed, that white voters would rush to the polls to cast their votes for him and that there was an undercurrent to the 2016 election that the wonks were missing. He went further than that, certainly, undercutting his own arguments by lacing them with conspiracy theories (pollsters were intentionally underplaying his support) and obvious falsehoods (that he'd do well because nonwhite voters would heavily support him, too). At least one Trump staffer says that this was to some extent bravado, not reflected in their polls.

It's clear now that Trump's view of how the election would shake out was right, at least in the broad strokes.

ProPublica's Alec MacGillis isolated an example of this effect.

Marquette County was one of two on Michigan's upper peninsula to back President Obama four years ago. Trump leads in the other one as well.

Not many votes there, though. But it doesn't take shifts in a lot of low-population counties to add up to a lot of votes.

Consider Florida, which we looked at earlier in the evening. In counties where fewer than 50,000 votes had been cast as of about 10 p.m. Eastern time, Trump had a margin of 186,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton. That is more than the margin by which Clinton won in most of the larger counties she won, save two.

There's a correlation between the white population and the results in the state. From our earlier piece:

The area around Tampa tells a lot of the story. In 2012, Obama won Hillsborough County with 52.7 percent of the vote and nearby Pinellas County with 52.1 percent. With about 90 percent of the vote in, Clinton lead in Hillsborough with 51.4 percent of the vote — but trailed in Pinellas with 47.4 percent. About half of the population of Hillsborough County in 2013 was non-Hispanic white. About three-quarters of Pinellas County falls into that category.

We can take that further. Across the state, in counties that were under 60 percent white, Clinton was performing about 2.5 percentage points worse than Obama, and Trump was doing a bit less than a percentage point better than Romney. In counties that are three-quarters white, Clinton was down 4.8 points versus the president and Trump up 3.1 points.

In Pennsylvania, we can look at Lackawanna County, home of Scranton, which is Joe Biden territory. Over the weekend, Trump's team seemed to have more going on in terms of voter contact over the all-important get-out-the-vote weekend. In 2012, Lackawanna County went for Barack Obama by more than 27 points. With 100 percent reporting in the county — which is the sort of blue-collar Appalachian territory that Trump assumed would be friendly territory — Clinton's lead is 3.4 points.

In Mahoning County, Ohio, which Obama won by 28 points, Clinton is leading by three points. This is the home of Youngstown, the archetypical Rust Belt city. A 25-point swing over four years.

Macomb County, Mich., north of Detroit. Obama won by four points. Clinton's losing it by 13. Macomb County is 80 percent non-Hispanic white. Mahoning is 77 percent white. Lackawanna, 87 percent.

Again, though, this isn't centralized in the Rust Belt. It's just that the Rust Belt was supposed to be a bedrock of Clinton's electoral firewall. We knew Florida would be a toss-up, but it seemed unlikely that Trump would play as well across the Midwest as he assured the world he would. He did.

Those shifts toward Trump in blue counties appear to have been compounded by two other effects. Preliminary exit poll data shows that Trump got about as much support from Republicans as Clinton did from Democrats — not atypical for a presidential candidate, but something that seemed to be unlikely even a few weeks ago. Those same exit polls also suggest that Clinton's margin among nonwhite voters was a little over 50 points, down from the 61-point margin Obama enjoyed in 2012.

These margins are friendlier to Trump than they were expected to be.

The effect is best seen in the microcosm, though. It's in places like Scranton and Youngstown, where Obama was able to cobble together small margins of his own. Thanks to that shifting tide, though, the edges of the Democratic vote frayed into almost nothing.