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 BidenBiden and Harris host 'family' Hanukkah celebration with more than 150 guests Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate MORE captured 224 congressional districts in the 2020 elections, compared to 211 won by former President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official 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 LeeHouse progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case Overturning Roe would be a disaster for young women of color CBC's pivotal role on infrastructure underscores caucus's growing stature MORE (D), Karen BassKaren Ruth BassFor Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones Proposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Bass calls 'Black pastors' comment during Arbery trial 'despicable' MORE (D) and Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy House Democrats brush off Manchin Lack of trust mangles Democratic efforts to reach deal MORE (D), as well as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden marks World AIDS Day with new actions to end HIV epidemic by 2030 DeFazio becomes 19th House Democrat to retire Pelosi: Democrats can't allow 'indecent' Boebert comments to stand 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) EvansState Democrat group teams up with federal lawmakers to elect down-ballot candidates Democrats on key panel offer bill on solar tax incentive It's now Pelosi's move on bipartisan roads bill 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 LawrenceBiden, top officials spread out to promote infrastructure package Gosar faces increasing odds of censure on House floor CBC's pivotal role on infrastructure underscores caucus's growing stature MORE (D) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibPelosi: Democrats can't allow 'indecent' Boebert comments to stand Omar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats September video shows Boebert made earlier comments suggesting Omar was a terrorist 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 WagnerConsumer bureau chief bashes FTC and pledges focus on tech giants, big firms House Democrats scramble to save housing as Biden eyes cuts Conservative women's group endorses Sarah Huckabee Sanders for Arkansas governor MORE (R-Mo.) and Van TaylorVan TaylorWHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel 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 RogersGOP lawmaker fined ,000 for failing to complete House security screening Greene fined a third time for refusing to wear mask on House floor Sixth House GOP lawmaker issued K metal detector fine MORE (R-Ky.) and Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerTwo GOP incumbents vow to run in redrawn West Virginia district House lawmakers urge Paralympics to make personal care assistants essential staff Six ways to visualize a divided America 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) RyanDemocrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Ohio Republicans swing for fences in redistricting proposals Ohio redistricting commission gives up on US House map 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 RomneyGOP anger with Fauci rises No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions 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 McBathHouse passes bipartisan bills to strengthen network security, cyber literacy With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one McBath on Arbery verdict: No decision can 'heal the wounds of losing a loved one' 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 CastenMcBath to run in neighboring district after GOP redrew lines Democrats expect to pass .75T Biden package this week Newman announces she'll challenge fellow Democrat Casten in newly drawn Illinois district MORE (D-Ill.), Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Rising prices undercut Biden agenda Virginia emerging as ground zero in battle for House majority Republicans look to education as winning issue after Virginia successes MORE (D-Va.) and Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsAbortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan Vulnerable House Democrats warn not to drop drug pricing from package 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 lawmaker fined ,000 for failing to complete House security screening Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — US joins pledge to end overseas fossil funding GOP lawmakers prepare for Glasgow trip MORE (R), Troy Nehls (R) and Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessMaintaining the doctor-patient relationship is the cornerstone of the U.S. health care system Burgess: Artificial intelligence key for future diabetic care The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Ninth House Dem announces retirement 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 JohnsonOhio redistricting commission gives up on US House map Biden needs to be both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Maintain navigable waters rule to make homes more affordable 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 KindDemocrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Democrats unite to send infrastructure bill to Biden's desk Billionaire tax gains momentum MORE (D-Wis.) and Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Pelosi calls for ethics, criminal investigations into Gosar 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 votes to censure Gosar and boot him from committees House to vote Wednesday to censure Gosar, remove him from committees Gosar faces increasing odds of censure on House floor MORE (D-R.I.) outran Biden by 7 points.

On the other hand, Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMace says she won't tolerate members who 'promote bigotry' Pelosi: Democrats can't allow 'indecent' Boebert comments to stand McCarthy pleads with Republicans to stop infighting: 'Congress is not junior high' 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 SewellIt's time for Congress to guarantee Medigap Health Insurance for vulnerable Americans with kidney disease It's time to make access to quality kidney care accessible and equitable for all Pressure builds on Democratic leadership over HBCU funding MORE (D-Ala.) or Richard NealRichard Edmund NealHouse passes giant social policy and climate measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Democrats press toward vote on massive Biden bill 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 ValadaoJarring GOP divisions come back into spotlight Trump allies target Katko over infrastructure vote Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms 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 MaceHickenlooper: Law preventing cannabis business banking 'a recipe for disaster' Mace says she won't tolerate members who 'promote bigotry' Mace writes to Fauci about 'Monkey Island' 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 KinzingerHillicon Valley — Chinese disinformation accounts removed House passes bipartisan bills to strengthen network security, cyber literacy McCarthy pleads with Republicans to stop infighting: 'Congress is not junior high' MORE (R-Ill.), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseWashington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines Maintain navigable waters rule to make homes more affordable Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada MORE (R-Wash.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist Lawmakers increasingly anxious about US efforts against Russian hackers GOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting 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 CheneyCheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official McCarthy pleads with Republicans to stop infighting: 'Congress is not junior high' MORE (R-Wyo.).