RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The reddest of North Carolina’s counties appear to have become even redder this year, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
A comparison of county-by-county voting results from this election and the one four years ago found 23 counties where Republican Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote in 2016.
In all but two of those counties, Trump received an even higher share of the unofficial vote this year.
“We are a hyper-polarized electorate,” Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer said, “and the turnout rate just signifies to me that the divide is even deeper.”
Most of the rises in that subgroup were by roughly a percentage point, as was the case in Graham, Yadkin and Mitchell counties — the three where Trump had the highest share of votes four years ago.
Trump won the state in 2016 with 49.8 percent of the vote to 46.2 percent for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and had higher percentages in 76 of the state’s 100 counties.
In unofficial results so far in a race still too close to call, Trump leads Democratic former Vice-President Joe Biden by 76,701 votes with as many as 116,000 outstanding absentee ballots and 40,000 provisional ballots potentially affecting the forthcoming final count.
The biggest percentage gains — in either direction — came in the neighboring counties of Robeson and Scotland, both in Trump’s favor. In Robeson County, Trump’s 58.6 percent of the vote this year was 7.8 percentage points higher than the 50.8 percent he received in 2016.
The 5.6 percentage point swing toward Trump in Scotland County was enough to turn the county red, after it went for Clinton four years ago.
There did not appear to be a similar affect for the state’s bluest counties four years ago: Clinton received at least 60 percent of the vote in 10 counties in 2016. In those counties, Biden’s percentage of the vote total was higher in only three of them: Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg.
“It is really interesting, and it’s of course indicative of the fact that not only is the U.S. highly divided, but we as North Carolinians are greatly divided and we have deep blue areas and deep red areas and we’re pretty evenly split,” N.C. State political science professor Andrew Taylor said.
Bitzer said it’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions about what caused those shifts. The results aren’t yet official, and more detailed voting history data won’t be available until later this month.
Taylor offered some possible explanations, among them that rural counties that are frequently dominated by Republicans are growing less rapidly than urban and suburban ones, which tend to lean Democratic.
“It’s possible that we have a sort of mini-sorting going on, where this thesis about politics where Democrats congregate together and Republicans congregate together,” he said. “And it may be that there are some Democratic voters who are leaving those areas and moving out of state or in state to maybe more suburban or urban areas.”
Those rural areas also have something else in common — they’re being hardest hit by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.
A CBS17.com analysis found that in the 16 counties with more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, 14 of them went for Trump — with the Republican incumbent receiving at least 60 percent of the vote in each of those.
The state broke a week-old record Friday with 2,908 new cases reported, bringing the statewide seven-day rolling average to an all-time high of 2,391.