In 2004, Darke County, in which I live, went 70% for George Bush. While I was under no illusion that Obama was going to win in my county, I was curious as to whether 2008 vote totals would be substantially different — that is to say, whether another four years of misadventure on the presidential level would have peeled away a substantial number of votes away from the GOP. The answer, as you can see above: No, not really. McCain did very nearly as well as Bush did in 2004, and since Obama got exactly the percentage of the vote that went to Kerry in 2004, that means when people did abandon the GOP, they went to a third party candidate rather than him. The moral of this story: Darke County is a Republican county and likely to remain that way for a long time.
This isn’t in the least bit surprising, of course. Darke County is Republican because demographically speaking Darke County should be Republican. It’s a rural, blue-collar county (its main industries are farming and manufacturing) whose population is overwhelmingly white (98.1%), and of whom only 6.5% hold a college degree, and whose largest town has a shade over 13,000 souls in it. This very nearly the definition of a Republican stronghold county. As Bill Bishop wrote in Slate today, looking at the data from the election and discussing counties where one candidate saw a vote margin of 10% or more, “Republican and Democratic counties were entirely different kinds of places. The average population of an Obama landslide county was 278,601. The average McCain landslide county had 37,475 people.” At 53,000 people, Darke is slightly larger than the average McCain county, but that’s the only substantial difference.
Darke County is a typical GOP county — it’s “real America,” to use that quaint phrase — but I’m not sure that’s something the GOP should be happy about. Darke County, like lots of other small, rural counties, is spinning its wheels: it’s slowly losing population and what population is here is slowly growing older, and it’s the sort of place where the loss of a single manufacturer will take down a bunch of jobs and the economic health of the county with it. It’s a lovely place to live — just ask me — but it’s not a place where a political party wants to see as its future, especially in a country that is increasingly multicultural and whose economy is moving away from agriculture and manufacturing.
After election night, some analysts have started to wonder if the GOP isn’t turning into a specialized, regional party rather than a true national party. I don’t think the GOP needs to worry about not being national — there are small, white, rural counties in every state — but if it pins its hopes on counties like mine, it’s not going to get back into power any time soon. The country is changing, and its future does not look like Darke County.