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Since the 2004 election, every state that gave the most votes to the Republican candidate was touching another state geographically that did the same. This is, of course excluding Alaska. And it is not true of blue states which usually touch each other in small regions like the Northeast, CO and NM (2008 onwards), the West. (The upper midwest was isolated in 2016 leaving just Illinois and Minnesota.) By the West I mean the three coastal states CA OR and WA. Why is this?

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    Just a suggestion, but you might look at cultural & political differences reflecting geography & population patterns. Democrats in that period supporting policies that are attractive to urbanites, repugnant to rural populations, the "red states" not being dominated by large urban areas. Would be even clearer, I think, if you looked at votes by Congressional district, or even finer granularity if the data is available. – jamesqf Aug 25 '20 at 17:28
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    While this is a moderately interesting observation, I don't think there needs to be an "explanation" If you look at projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2020-election-forecast you can see that there are many scenarios in which the "red" states don't form a contiguous block, and a few (unlikely but...) in which the democrats do. – James K Aug 25 '20 at 21:48
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Democrats tend to do very well in big urban centers and poorly in rural areas. Middle america and the south don't have many big cities that completely dominate a State.

Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, St. Louis are all big cities in middle/south USA but they don't completely dominate their State the way New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia/Pittsburgh, Boston dominate their States.

Big cities tend to be concentrated in the costal/northeast regions, so that is where Democrats do well. Conversely, middle\southern America doesn't have many big cities, so Republicans do well. This is why it is called "flyover country" by some - the places between the big cities.

In fact if you look at voting data, even in Democratic strongholds like Illinois, New York and California, rural areas tend to be heavily Republican.

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Democratic-majority states are concentrated on the coasts, so they tend to have smaller numbers of neighboring states. Otherwise, this is just a matter of pure chance. I see no reason to think that there is a causal relationship between voting patterns in neighboring states.

  • Interesting observation, red states do indeed tend to border more states than blue ones do. Of the 22 states that border at least 5 other states, 18 of them were red in the last presidential election. Of the 34 states that border at least 4 other states, 25 were red. There's also the overall imbalance of red vs. blue states - there are simply more red states than blue states, increasing the likelihood that they will border one another. – Nuclear Hoagie Aug 25 '20 at 17:46
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    Maybe it has to do with them not being on the coasts. – Number File Aug 25 '20 at 17:50
  • Re "I see no reason...": just because we might not see a reason doesn't necessarily imply there's not a good reason we do not see. – agc Aug 26 '20 at 6:46
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    @agc A spurious correlation requires no explanation. – Brian Z Aug 26 '20 at 11:39
  • @BrianZ, True but irrelevant when replying to a comment that has no spurious correlation. – agc Aug 28 '20 at 13:27
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As a general US rule, densely-packed areas that are primarily urban and which focus on end-product industry, commerce, or technology tend to lean Left. They are more cosmopolitan, more ethnically diverse, have somewhat higher average educational levels, and are more secular, all of which lead towards more sympathetic views to social justice issues. By contrast, loosely populated rural regions, which emphasize agriculture, ranching, mining, and resource industry (oil extraction, iron smelting, ore processing) tend to lean Right. They are both more religious and more socially conservative, and have little exposure to the issues involved with typically 'liberal' policies. On any level of the US political map one cares to look at, there will be islands of blue concentrated in densely populated areas, separated by oceans of red spreading through lightly populated rural regions. For instance, California is a reliably 'blue' state, but any detail of the California political map will show areas of blue around Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area, with chunks of the coast, most of the Central Valley, and all of the Eastern counties showing bright red.

Various sources have produced election maps in which the geographical size of states is adjusted to reflect the proportion of population they represent. Below are two, by Business Insider (working on a state level) and Metrocosm (working on county-level data). Note how different the maps look when adjusted for population size (the second image includes the conventional geographical depiction for reference).

Business Insider map Metrocosm map

  • Great pix, but this answer doesn't much address why the red areas are contiguous. – agc Aug 26 '20 at 6:43
  • @agc: actually it does, but maybe not directly enough. The read areas are contiguous because of population density; they are roughly the same amount of people spread out over maybe 5-10 times the area. The red areas appear to 'touch' because pretty much everything outside major cities is red, and the ranching/farming states in the center of the country never developed cities on the scale of NY, Chicago, or LA. It's an artifact of the mapping, not something particularly meaningful in itself. – Ted Wrigley Aug 26 '20 at 7:40
  • @agc: you might as well ask why oil beads when you drop it in water. Something has to be the visual foreground and something the visual background, red gets to be the visual background because conservatives are just a lot more spread out than liberals. – Ted Wrigley Aug 26 '20 at 7:44
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    Re "more sympathetic views to social justice issues", I think that might be better rephrased as having different views on what exactly social justice issues ARE. As an extreme example, I expect that many rural people would consider the right to bear arms (and to hunt) as a social justice issue. – jamesqf Aug 26 '20 at 23:03
  • @jamesqf: That is difficult phrasing, I agree. I think the real difference, I think, is between a communalist and individualist worldview, and I don't think either position is particularly 'wrong', but it becomes very complex very quickly. I'll think about it a bit and see if I can phrase it better. – Ted Wrigley Aug 27 '20 at 0:57

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