Six ways to visualize a divided America

It’s not your imagination and it’s not hyperbole: The nation is as politically divided today as at any point in the last century. 

President BidenJoe BidenObama, Clinton reflect on Mondale's legacy Biden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Mondale in last message to staff: 'Joe in the White House certainly helps' MORE captured 224 congressional districts in the 2020 elections, compared to 211 won by former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE. Only 16 districts — nine held by Republicans, seven by Democrats — split their vote between the presidential contest and congressional races. 

That’s a little under 4 percent of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. To put that in historical context, as recently as 1988, a third of congressional districts split their vote between presidential and House elections. The percentage of split-ticket districts hasn’t been this low since 1920, according to research from Brookings.


The lines along which the United States is divided are shifting, and the two party coalitions are evolving to define the future of politics for the next decade or more. If the last decade was replete with reminders that demographics were destiny, the coming years will show that density is determinative. 

Here are six charts that illustrate where we are, and where we’re headed — and a note of thanks to the team at Daily Kos Elections, who crunched the numbers to show presidential election results by congressional district for each of the last three national elections: 

Democrats dominate in diverse districts

Biden’s biggest advantages came in districts where the population is the most diverse. Many of the districts that performed best for Biden are centered in the densest cities in America — places like New York, where he took more than 80 percent of the vote in seven districts, or California, where he scored that high in urban districts held by Reps. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressive lawmaker to introduce bill seeking more oversight of Israel assistance Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees MORE (D), Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBass 'hopeful' on passing police reform: 'Republicans that I am working with are operating in good faith' Sunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues Lawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' MORE (D) and Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezMarjorie Taylor Greene to introduce resolution to expel Maxine Waters Democrats have a growing tax problem with SALT Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Greene account suspended in error | Justice Dept. indicts hacker connected to massive surveillance breach | Trump reference to 'Chinese virus' linked to increase in anti-Asian hashtags MORE (D), as well as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House readies for Chauvin verdict House GOP's McClain responds to Pelosi calling her 'that woman' GOP struggles to rein in nativism MORE (D).

But he ultimately owes his presidency to densely packed swing-state districts. Outside of Washington, D.C., Biden did best in Rep. Dwight EvansDwight (Dewey) EvansSix ways to visualize a divided America House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Will the next coronavirus relief package leave essential workers behind? MORE’s (D-Pa.) district, Center City and West Philadelphia, where he took 91.3 percent of the vote. He won 86.2 percent in Georgia’s 5th District, represented by Rep. Nikema Williams (D). And he claimed almost 80 percent in districts held by Reps. Brenda LawrenceBrenda Lulenar LawrenceLobbying world Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years Troops defending Capitol sickened by undercooked meat: report MORE (D) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibCan policing be reformed? GOP believes Democrats handing them winning 2022 campaign McCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' MORE (D) in Detroit.


Without those huge margins, Biden may not have carried Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan, states critical to his path to 270 electoral votes. 

Trump, on the other hand, did best in districts where white voters are the overwhelming majority. Of the 25 districts in which Trump performed best, only nine were less than 70 percent white — and all nine of those districts are in Texas and Oklahoma, where Republicans performed well among Hispanic voters.

Democrats built an education gap

Perhaps the most substantial realignment that has taken place during the Trump years is happening among voters with a college degree.  


Among the 40 districts with the highest levels of the population with a bachelor’s degree, House Democrats hold 37 seats — and Biden won 38. He came within 1.2 percentage points of winning the other two Republican-held, highly-educated districts, held by Reps. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerGuilfoyle named as national chair of Greitens' Senate campaign in Missouri Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP GOP seeks new line of attack on Biden economic plans MORE (R-Mo.) and Van TaylorVan TaylorHouse Republicans ask Pelosi to reschedule Biden's address to Congress Six ways to visualize a divided America House approves rules package for new Congress MORE (R-Texas). 

Biden won substantially in districts where the fewest residents have bachelor’s degrees too — primarily because most of those districts are heavily diverse. Biden won 13 of the 15 least well-educated districts in the country, though he got blown out in the only two of those districts in which fewer than half of residents are not white.

Those two districts tell their own story of a changing America: They are held by Reps. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersThe Memo: Hunter Biden and the politics of addiction Six ways to visualize a divided America READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Ky.) and Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerSix ways to visualize a divided America House GOP campaign arm rolls out new leadership team READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-W.Va.), members whose constituents are more than 95 percent white.

As recently as 2017, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats in Rogers’s southeastern Kentucky district by a margin of 10,000. Today, Rogers represents 73,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Miller is just the fourth Republican to represent her southern West Virginia district since the Roosevelt administration, and if she wins reelection in 2022 she would be the first three-term Republican to hold the seat since the Depression.

Trump’s best districts, on the other hand, are all seats with the highest levels of white voters who do not have a college degree. Biden did not win a single district where more than 65 percent of the population over the age of 25 was made up of non-college whites. 

Biden won 51 percent of the vote in Ohio’s 13th District, home of Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanBusinessman Mike Gibbons jumps into GOP Senate race in Ohio Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE (D), where 64.7 percent of the population over 25 lacks a college degree. 

Trump’s coalition bled Mormons and the suburbs

In 2012, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyAdvocacy groups pushing Biden to cancel student debt for disabled 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines MORE scored 61 percent of the vote in Georgia’s 6th District. In 2020, Biden won the district with 55 percent — a 16-point swing in just eight years. The once-Republican district in the Atlanta suburbs also reelected Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGiffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall Six ways to visualize a divided America Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing MORE (D), who first won her seat in the 2018 midterms. 


Across the nation, the districts where Trump trailed Romney’s 2012 performance the most were suburban districts, held by members like Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), Sean CastenSean CastenDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Newman fundraises off of growing feud with Marjorie Taylor Greene MORE (D-Ill.), Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonTrump the X-factor in Virginia governor race Xinjiang forced labor complex is growing — President Biden should work with Congress to curb it Acting chief acknowledges police were unprepared for mob MORE (D-Va.) and Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsIs nonpartisan effectiveness still possible? Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure When infrastructure fails MORE (D-Kan.) — all of whom won Republican-held seats in 2018 or 2020.

Wonder why Democrats put a special emphasis on Texas in 2020? Of the 15 districts that swung hardest away from Republican presidential candidates between Romney 2012 and Trump 2020, a whopping seven are in the Lone Star State.  

Democrats have already captured seats now held by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D) and Colin Allred (D), but they may have room to grow in fast-growing, well-educated and diverse suburbs held by Taylor and Reps. Beth Van Duyne (R), Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGOP Rep. Crenshaw to take leave due to eye surgery Koch network urges lawmakers to back 'personal option' health plan A nuclear frontier MORE (R), Troy Nehls (R) and Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessAmericans have decided to give professionals a chance Six ways to visualize a divided America Capitol Police tribute turns political MORE (R). Biden came within 2 points of winning all but Burgess’s district. 

Remember those pre-election stories questioning whether members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints couldn’t stomach Trump’s behavior? All four of Utah’s congressional districts were among those that swung hardest away from Trump, by between 12 and 18 points. That may be because Romney did unusually well among fellow Mormons, but 3 out of 4 Republican members of Congress from Utah outperformed Trump by substantial margins.

On the other end of the spectrum, the districts that moved most toward Republicans between Romney and Trump’s reelection are virtually all located in Rust Belt states where ancestral and conservative Democrats now align with the GOP.


Trump scored nearly three-quarters of the vote in Rep. Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonSix ways to visualize a divided America Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel jumps into Senate race READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE’s (R-Ohio) district, along the border with West Virginia. Johnson holds a seat once held by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). Among the eight districts that swung more than 10 points toward Trump, only two — Missouri’s 8th District and Florida’s 24th — are not in states likely to lose congressional districts in the next round of reapportionment.

Democrats’ rural red lights 

Though there are a historically tiny number of crossover districts, there are still some seats where incumbent members of Congress vastly outperform the top of the ticket. Those are the districts that would be vulnerable to a party switch once the popular incumbent calls it quits.

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) ran more than 8 points ahead of Biden, in one of the few districts to split its ticket this year. Reps. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James Kind House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez Race debate grips Congress Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (D-Wis.) and Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightSupreme Court rejects case challenging Pennsylvania's mail-in ballot deadline Six ways to visualize a divided America Will Biden continue NASA's Artemis program to return to the moon? MORE (D-Pa.) each ran more than 4 points ahead of Biden in districts Trump carried. 

Analyzing the difference between a House Democrat’s performance and Biden’s performance in the same district hints at some intriguing trends, even in safely blue districts. Rep. Ed CaseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (D-Hawaii) won a comeback bid with 72 percent of the vote in his Oahu-based district, 8 points better than Biden did there. Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse committee approves Big Tech antitrust blueprint House lawmakers fired up for hearing with tech CEOs Democratic lawmakers propose B hike for State MORE (D-R.I.) outran Biden by 7 points.

On the other hand, Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBiden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' McCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' White House reverses course on refugee cap after Democratic eruption MORE (D-Minn.) underperformed Biden by almost 16 points in Minneapolis, though she still won with a comfortable 65 percent of the vote. 

A note about this chart: The darker the blue, the better a House Democratic candidate ran against Biden’s vote share. The redder the seat, the better Biden did against the House Democrat. The lightest blue — districts held by Reps. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellRep. Terri Sewell declines to run for Senate in Alabama Amazon union battle comes to Washington GOP leader to try to force Swalwell off panel MORE (D-Ala.) or Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump lawyers argue NY tax return law no longer applies to him Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support MORE (D-Mass.) — are seats where the incumbent ran unopposed. Several incumbents in California, like Pelosi, Gomez and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D), ran behind Biden, but only because they faced Democratic challengers after the state’s top-two primary.

Where Republicans ran ahead of Trump

House Republicans beat expectations to gain seats in 2020 in part by running well ahead of their incumbent president in key swing districts. 

Reps. Young Kim (R-Calif.), David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Valadao gives Gaetz donation to victims of abuse House Republicans who backed Trump impeachment warn Democrats on Iowa election challenge MORE (R-Calif.), Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) and Maria E. Salazar (R-Fla.) all beat sitting Democrats by running between 3 and 6 points ahead of Trump. Then again, the GOP also clawed back seats now held by Reps. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), Nancy MaceNancy MaceEric Bolling rules out congressional bid Omar: Capitol security incident would be more deadly if AR-15 involved Former Fox News host considering running against GOP incumbent MORE (R-S.C.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) who ran well behind Trump — a signal of just how bad the 2018 midterms were for the GOP.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) was the standout of the year: She ran more than 10 points behind Trump, but she ousted the longest-standing Blue Dog Democrat still in Congress, Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (D), in a district that trended heavily away from Democrats in the past decade.

Of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, nine ran ahead of Trump in the 2020 elections. Three — Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerGOP struggles to rein in nativism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE (R-Ill.), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Overnight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure's climate plans won't survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July's end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change House Republicans who backed Trump impeachment warn Democrats on Iowa election challenge MORE (R-Wash.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoTop House Republicans ask Harris for meeting on border Personal security costs for anti-Trump lawmakers spiked post-riot New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (R-N.Y.) — ran about 8 points ahead of the president. 

The one who ran behind Trump: House Republican Conference Chair Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax Republicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Freedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MORE (R-Wyo.).