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Based on this picture of the 2020 Presidential election, most Northern California counties outside the coast tend to be Republican leaning. However, Alpine County has voted Democratic since 2004 as shown here despite its small population and distance from major population centers. What accounts for the recent democratic tendencies of Alpine County?

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    small sample leads to large swings. With only a couple of hundred voters, random local effects can have a disproportionate affect in percentage terms.
    – James K
    Commented May 24 at 21:02
  • Smaller voting units always show a higher variance than larger and may lead the charts either way. It may be just luck and there might be other examples as well, ie small highly Republican districts in Democratic areas. Commented May 25 at 6:23

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Alpine County went from being virtually uninhabited, as of 1930, to having two growing ski resorts in recent years (with the biggest shift between 1970 and 1980). The success of these ski resorts, and the shift in the respective major party coalitions since 2015, has driven this shift in its politics. This county is now a mountain ski resort area and not just a typical rural area with an agricultural and mining economy.

Ski resort towns have high local population densities in inhabited areas, despite having low population densities at the county level (which includes lots of vacant land not suitable for urban development). They are basically affluent neighborhoods of big city urban centers that are transplanted into sparsely populated mountain areas (you see something similar in rural college towns). So, they vote in a manner similar to affluent neighborhoods in big city urban centers.

Similarly, while most of rural Colorado is very Republican leaning, its mountain resort towns lean center-left. As shown on the map below in which the blue areas in center of Colorado from west to east generally have tourism oriented economies that are smilar in most relevant respects to Alpine County, California.

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Mountain resorts towns, which previously teetered between center-right Republicans and center-left Democrats, started leaning more strongly left since 2015.

What happened?

College educated voters used to be strongly split between the Republican Party, which had economic policies favoring the affluent, and the Democratic Party, whose social policies were in line with the social values of the upper middle class in the U.S.

But, since at least 2015, college educated upper middle class voters made a strong shift to the Democratic Party and working class white voters made a strong shift to the Republican Party. This shift was led by and associated with Donald Trump.

Since mountain resort town voters tend to be politically aligned with affluent college educated people, they joined that shift and have moved left politically.

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