It’s useful, then, to remember that, for better or worse, the nation’s divides are not structured in the same way that they were in 1861. It makes no sense for red states to secede, for example, because most of those who voted for President Donald Trump last year live in blue ones. That may seem surprising in the abstract, but consider that Los Angeles County alone has more Trump voters than more than 600 of the least-populated red counties. At the county level, that contrast is lessened somewhat: only about 45 percent of Trump voters live in counties that voted for President Biden.
We can visualize this another way. Imagine that you’re plunked down into the geographic center of a random county in the United States. On average, you’re about 180 miles from the center of a county that backed Biden by a margin of at least 50 points and about 52 miles from one that backed Trump by that margin. If the county you’re in voted for Biden, you’re an average of about 117 miles — a three-hour drive — from the center of a Trump plus-50 county. (You could be as close as 13 miles, if you landed in Warren County, Ga.) If the county you’re in voted for Trump, you’re an average of 194 miles from a Biden plus-50 one.
There’s almost always a county that backed one of the 2020 presidential candidates by an overwhelming margin a relatively short distance away.
(The lines that fly off to the west? Hawaii.)
This doesn’t mean there aren’t political bubbles, of course. As I wrote in December, a lot of supporters of Biden and Trump had no friends who supported the other candidate. Just because we live near people who supported the other candidate doesn’t mean we know them.
But the point is that, regardless of who you are and where you live, you probably live near a lot of people who supported the other candidate for president.
If we break the 2020 results into chunks of 20-point margins, that becomes more clear. If you live in a county that backed Biden by a 60-point margin (anything from about plus-50 to plus-70), you live within a 20-mile radius of about 219,000 Trump voters, on average. This is necessarily a bit wobbly, based on the centers of counties and on the fact that most places that went that big for Biden were large cities. But the point remains: even if you don’t see them, there are a lot of people nearby who voted for the other guy.
Average number of supporters in 20-mile radius
Same holds with heavily Trump counties: on average, places that backed Trump by about 60 points are within 20 miles of 7,000 Biden voters. That’s far fewer, but there are only an average of 19,000 Trump voters in those mostly rural areas.
There’s been a lot of good analysis looking at the extent to which we live within partisan bubbles even within counties. (See this study, for example.) Precinct-level data from Ryne Rohla provided to The Washington Post shows that precincts that backed Biden or Trump did so, by a 40-point margin on average. Even that, though, means that nearly a third of every precinct for which there was data voted for the losing candidate.
We are divided, yes. But there’s still an enormous amount of partisan overlap in the fabric of the United States.