Barack Obama and George Bush are two very different leaders with 128 counties in common. George W. Bush carried these counties in 2000 and 2004; in 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama carried them. They are pivotal and far from predictable when looking at the results in the presidential election in 2016. In many ways, those counties together form a “purple” nation within the greater nation of America.
There are Bush-Obama counties in 34 states in every region of the country. There are five in Mississippi, but only one in Maine, and two in Montana. It is not surprising that the swing state of Virginia contains the largest number of Bush-Obama counties. The 14 Virginia counties include Henrico, which is located in the upsetting congressional district that retired Eric Cantor.
In 2009, we began a journey to explore the state of the American Dream in Purple America and it continues today. When we started, there were 272 counties. But in 2012, that number shrunk to 128. The 2012 battle for the White House was much closer in Bush-Obama America than in the rest of the nation, in which Barack Obama won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Mitt Romney. While President Obama won the majority of the votes in Bush-Obama America in 2012, Mitt Romney won more Bush-Obama counties, carrying many of the counties with smaller populations. In terms of swing states, Obama won four of the six Bush-Obama counties in Ohio, all of the counties in Colorado, but lost most in Iowa and Michigan. His strong performance in other counties with larger populations in Michigan and Iowa made up for the heavy losses he suffered in those states’ Bush-Obama counties. So again, when considering 2012, we have 128 Bush-Obama counties – those that Bush won in 2000 and 2004 and Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton actually carried the majority of voters in swing counties despite losing many of the Bush-Obama counties that mattered the most, such as those in Wisconsin and Michigan. Here is the overall count in Bush-Obama:
Total Vote% Total # Votes
Hillary Clinton 54.7% 6,837,632
Donald Trump 45.3% 5,656,391
We have interviewed people from a range of perspectives in these counties, exploring the demographic and economic changes that drive our country’s ideological, cultural and political transformations, in ways that reflect the diversity of Bush-Obama America. Many Bush-Obama Americans could smell the destruction of the American Dream in 2008 and hoped President Obama would restore their faith in the future. By 2010, many in this nation had lost faith in President Obama, something also reflected in the 2014 midterm results. Yet it is still easy to find voters with romanticized views of the Age of Obama which grew with an improving economy. Then came the surprise of 2016. Hillary Clinton actually carried the majority of voters in swing counties despite losing many of the Bush-Obama counties that mattered the most, such as those in Wisconsin and Michigan. Now a new question looms–Where does Purple America go in the 2018 Midterm elections?
Editor and Director: David J. Dent
Producers/Writers/Research: Valentina Duque Bojanini, Owen Iwamasa, David Jeffrey Larson, Bernard Mokam, John P. O’Donoghue, Sonrisa Murray, Julius Pryor, Romary Santana, Alec James Winshel
David J. Dent is an Associate Professor at New York University where he holds a joint appointment at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. He created the course “Deconstructing Obama” and teaches courses in journalism and nonfiction writing. He is the author of In Search of Black America which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2000. He has written for Vice, PBS NewsHour, The New York Times Magazine, Book Review and Education Life supplements, Playboy, GQ, Salon, The Washington Post and many other publications. He and his wife Valerie are Co-Founders of Write for the Future, an organization that focuses on ways college admissions essays can help students become better writers.