The Census Bureau collects data on technology adoption across the country, releasing assessments of how common computer ownership or Internet access is at the state, county and Census tract level. If we compare the density of households without any type of computer (including smartphones) or broadband access to how a country voted in 2020, we see that Trump-voting counties are overrepresented in both groups.
These graphs are not terribly complicated, but it’s worth a quick explanation. The outer ring shows the distribution of households in the category indicated above the circles: the split in 2020 vote for households without a computer at left and without broadband at right. This is a measure of what percentage of households in each category are in counties that voted for Trump or President Biden, not necessarily how the households themselves voted.
That split is compared with the distribution of households overall, shown in the smaller, center circle. So we see, for example, that the red slice of the outer circle in “without a computer” is larger than the red slice in the inner circle — meaning that households in Trump-voting counties are overrepresented among households without a computer. That’s more true among houses that lack broadband, a category that includes high-speed wireless.
This is largely a function of how many of those households fall in rural or less densely populated areas. The graphs below use the same format, but instead of slicing the household groups up by 2020 vote, they’re sliced up by population density, as categorized by the Pew Research Center. So you see that the dark orange slices in the outer circles are far larger than the inner circles — meaning that rural households make up a disproportionate segment of households without computers or Internet.
There are multiple reasons. One is infrastructural. It’s a lot more expensive on a per-household basis to run cable to remote locations where houses are at a large distance from one another. Another is that rural areas also tend to have lower incomes, making affording computers and broadband more challenging.
The reason the White House released its map, of course, is to make the pitch for a broader investment in broadband in those rural areas.
“As we release this important data to the public, it paints a sobering view of the challenges facing far too many Americans as they try to connect to high-speed broadband and participate in our modern economy,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Axios.
Whether Congress supports an investment meant to close that gap will come down to politics. So it’s worth pointing out the extent to which more Republican areas are disproportionately affected by limited technology.
Large urban areas are less likely to see limited broadband availability in part because it’s easier to provide that availability in densely populated areas. But notice that even in other types of counties, such as counties with smaller cities, households in Republican areas are overrepresented among those households with no computers or broadband. (That overrepresentation is shown by the orange bars extending further past the dark gray one.)
That latter graph includes another important point: There are more households in rural areas that voted for Trump than households in big cities that voted for Biden that have no broadband access. That despite the fact that the former group represents only 13 percent of households and the latter nearly 30 percent.
It’s a geographic divide and an economic divide. But Biden’s team is certainly hoping that congressional Republicans will recognize that it’s also, by extension, a political divide.