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Areas with higher concentrations of white people with college degrees made a huge difference for President-elect Joe Biden in the 2020 election, with margins in particular counties pushing him over the top in states he needed to win.
While Biden performed strongly in these precincts with higher earners with degrees, it does not necessarily mean he cleaned up exclusively among more wealthy voters.
The counties that saw the biggest swing away from President Donald Trump's margins in 2016 largely fit a pattern: Substantial population growth over recent years, with higher median earnings, more white people with college degrees, and often lots of transplants from other states.
Of the 202 counties in the United States with a Whole Foods Market, Biden won 171 of them.
A recent FiveThirtyEight data analysis of the returns showed how the more college-educated white people there are in a given area, the more likely it was to go for Biden in 2020.
A diverse coalition of more than 81 million Americans secured President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election, but specific places where he performed better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 explain how he locked up the Electoral College.
Record turnout among voters under the age of 30 certainly helped Biden, but he also underperformed among Black and Latino voters compared to former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
What ultimately pushed Biden over the top was his dominance in areas with concentrations of higher-earning, college-educated white people, often with higher numbers of transplants from other parts of the country.
In an analysis of how Biden's victory changed the electoral map, Elena Majía and Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight describe how Biden's strength in these suburban and exurban pockets ended up counteracting issues he faced elsewhere.
"Biden was able to win these three states [Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania] by improving on Clinton's margins in predominantly suburban and exurban counties around big cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, where more white voters with a college degree backed the Democratic presidential ticket - a trend that was true across the country," they wrote.
"In fact," they added, "it was thanks to gains in these types of places that Biden was able to offset Trump's otherwise much stronger performance in rural areas, as well as Trump's slight improvement in the city of Philadelphia proper."
Whole Foods voters
While many of these counties have high median incomes, that does not necessarily mean that Biden cleaned up among the high-earners. It just means that these precincts were particularly strong for him because of this longer-brewing demographic trend of geographic sorting based on education level.
In federal elections, this dynamic began to emerge more clearly around the 2018 midterms, propelling Democrats back into the House majority. In 2020, particularly in states like Arizona and Georgia as well as in the Midwest, this demographic of college-educated whites was Biden's first line of defense against President Donald Trump.
For example, of the 202 counties with a Whole Foods Market - a decent signifier for affluent communities - Biden won 171 of them, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.
Wasserman compared his Whole Foods tally with counties that have a Cracker Barrel, more of a culturally conservative signifier. In almost a mirror image of the Whole Foods phenomenon, counties with Cracker Barrel locations were heavily correlated with strong Trump performances in both 2016 and 2020.
Beyond the Whole Foods anecdote, many of the counties that saw the biggest swings away from Trump in 2016 fit a similar profile.
In Georgia, several suburban counties made it into the top 10. These counties with big swings toward Biden in the Peach State form an arc around Atlanta, helping carry a state that hadn't gone for a Democrat in a presidential election since 1992.
Henry County, like others that proved crucial for Biden in swing states, underwent sizable population increases since the turn of the 21st century, and more acutely since the Great Recession.
Henry County went from being reliably Republican in the 1980s and 1990s to firmly in Biden's column in 2020 with a 20-point margin.
Each of these counties trending toward Democrats have unique characteristics, but an overarching theme is population growth spurred by college-educated transplants.
In the "blue wall" states that Trump locked up to win the 2016 election - Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin - FiveThirtyEight ran an analysis of the returns showing how the more college-educated white people there are in a given area, the more likely it was to go for Biden in 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic shifted voters' priorities
A Duke University political scientist offered one explanation for why this shift was so pronounced in FiveThirtyEight's analysis.
"A lot of college-educated whites were not that turned off by Trump's rhetoric about women or people of color," Professor Ashley Jardina told FiveThirtyEight. "But we're now in the middle of a pandemic and if you're a college-educated person who cares about good government, Trump's handling of the response might really matter to you."
While many of these voters may not necessarily identify as Democrats, they defected from Trump in large enough numbers to outweigh the gains he made in turnout among whites without a college degree in addition to his improved results among Black and Latino men.
Despite Biden performing well among this segment of the electorate, Democrats lost House seats in several of the same areas with higher concentrations of college-educated whites.
But white, college-educated voters did not single-handedly carry Biden to victory.
People of color under the age of 30 came out in droves, with their votes offsetting boosts in GOP turnout in several states.
Still, on 2020's Electoral College map, precincts and counties with more college-educated whites made the difference between Biden winning the states he needed to hit the necessary 270 electoral votes and coming up just short. If these areas had voted the way they did in 2016 or 2012, Biden would have had to find tens of thousands of votes elsewhere to offset that loss.
Biden's coalition was diverse and historic in its sheer size, but history may remember his victory in large part because of the demographic makeup of these Whole Foods counties.
Read the original article on Business Insider