In late 2016, much of the post-election discourse focused on the popular vote versus the electoral vote. One controversial claim was that President-elect Trump won more than 3,000 counties throughout the United States, while Clinton won only a smattering.
On 1 December 2016, one blog asserted:
Share this with as many whiners as you can.
There are 3,141 counties in the United States.
Trump won 3,084 of them.
Clinton won 57.
There are 62 counties in New York State.
Trump won 46 of them.
Clinton won 16.
The article offered no citations or links to support its claims. However, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 3,141 counties in the United States. A slightly different version of the claim appeared to originate with Breitbart on 15 November 2016:
Donald Trump won an overwhelming 7.5 million popular vote victory in 3,084 of the country’s 3,141 counties or county equivalents in America’s heartland.
Fifty-five point seven million out of the 109.3 million Americans who cast their ballots in those counties voted for Trump, while only 48.1 million voted for Hillary Clinton, according to the latest county by county election results reported at Politico. The remaining 5.4 million voted for other candidates.
That article linked to a Politico story, but that article cited scattered results only in counties with noteworthy results (not a numerical tally by county). A map was attributed to a University of Michigan blog, which contrasted several different maps contrasting the election results as they’re generally shown with cartograms (which adjust for population density).
Here is a map of US counties, again colored red and blue to indicate Republican and Democratic majorities respectively:
Now the effects we saw at the state level are even more pronounced: the red areas appear overwhelmingly in the majority, despite the closeness of the vote. Again, we can make a more helpful representation by using a cartogram. Here is what the cartogram looks like for the county-level election returns:
One way to reveal more nuance in the vote is to use not just two colors, red and blue, but to use red, blue, and shades of purple in between to indicate percentages of votes. Here is what the normal map looks like if you do this:
And here’s what the cartogram looks like:
The maps page did not show a numerical breakdown by county, however. The Breitbart article concluded with a list of the 52 “elite coastal counties” purportedly won by Clinton:
Trump campaigned very little in the 23 elite coastal counties in the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington, and only vigorously campaigned in five Northern Virginia counties and Philadelphia on the East Coast … Here is the full list of these 52 elite coastal counties:
(California: Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Ventura; Oregon: Multnomah and Washington; Washington: King and Snohomish; Virginia: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William (and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church); Washington, D.C.; Maryland: Baltimore, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s (and the city of Baltimore); Pennsylvania: Delaware and Philadelphia; New Jersey: Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, and Union; New York: Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Westchester; Connecticut: Fairfield, Hartford, and New Haven; and Massachusetts: Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk.)
The 52 of 57 counties Clinton purportedly won were in just ten states and the District of Columbia. Not mentioned in this list was the state of Alabama, where Clinton won 12 of the 67 counties, alreading bringing Clinton’s total to 64 counties total. Arizona (where Clinton won four of 15 counties) was also omitted from the list. Clinton won eight counties in Arkansas, and 23 in the state of Colorado (which she won). She also took Delaware, despite winning one of three counties, and lost Florida with the exception of nine counties. And while Clinton lost Georgia, she did win over 30 of its 159 counties. Skipping to Texas, Clinton went home with 27 of its 254 counties.
Even if you count only 17 states (Breitbart‘s ten and an additional seven), Clinton won 164 counties in those 17. Even without accounting for the other 33 states, the claim that Trump won all but 57 of America’s 3,141 counties appeared to be completely untrue.
The map on which the claim was based came from one of several university projections, but the author of the article and creator of the map repeatedly noted it was a poor reflection of the electoral breakdown.
We were unable to substantiate the “57 counties” number by any mathematical means.
Leahy, Michael Patrick. “Donald Trump Won 7.5 Million Popular Vote Landslide in Heartland.”
Breitbart. 15 November 2016.
Newman, M.E.J. “Maps of the 2016 Us Presidential Election Results.”
University of Michigan. November 2016.
Politico. “2016 Presidential Election Results.”
Updated 22 November 2016.
The New York Times. “Presidential Race Results [by State].”
Updated 29 November 2016.
USGS.gov. “Geographic Names Information System FAQ.”
Accessed 2 December 2016.