An Inquiry of Bellwether Counties in US Presidential Elections

9 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2020

Date Written: August 20, 2020


Bellwethers have been studied for decades in the realm of election forecasting. Presidential election forecasting has historically focused on the study of bellwethers at the level of the state, likely due to the fact that presidential candidates win electoral college votes based upon the winner of the popular vote in each state. However, states can be difficult to study due to their large sizes and diverse political environments, leading these authors to examine whether bellwethers can also be studied at the finer resolution of individual counties. To do so, the popular vote winner of each county for every presidential election from 1980 through 2016 was tabulated and mapped, yielding 19 true bellwether counties for the period. These counties were geographically clustered in the Midwest and in the Northeast. Demographically, the bellwether counties tended to be whiter, older, less educated, have lower median incomes, have a lower percentage of workers in the labor force, and have higher rates of vacant housing than the country as a whole. Finally, numerical bellwether scores for all 3142 counties in the US were computed based upon the number of elections in which each county voted for the winner of the election. Counties with the highest bellwether scores were also disproportionately found in the Midwest and in the Northeast.

Suggested Citation

Zimny-Schmitt, Daniel and Harris, Michael, An Inquiry of Bellwether Counties in US Presidential Elections (August 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Zimny-Schmitt (Contact Author)

University of Denver ( email )

Boettcher West, Room 120
2050 E. Iliff Ave.
Denver, CO 80208-0710
United States

Michael Harris

University of New Hampshire ( email )

15 College Road
Durham, NH 03824
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics