Scrimshaw Spotlight: The DFW Quad

The Four Most Telling Counties In America

Why did Joe Biden do worse than Beto O'Rourke in Texas?

A lot of the focus on answering that question has gone to south Texas, where the swings were eye popping and memorable, and with some good reason. But there just aren't that many voters out there, and that alone wouldn't have solved those problems. And, Biden did do better than O'Rourke in other places, obviously. But, where, and what lessons can we draw from it?

This map, from Jackson Bryman, shows the swing from Beto to Biden in the Quad - Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties - with the red areas being areas where Beto outran Biden, and blue areas being Biden overperformances. And the map is stunning in how clear everything is. This map shows one thing perfectly clearly - that even in an election where they went backwards in Texas, they still made big gains with one group - rich white people.

That map shows the two major cities in the DFW metro - Dallas and Fort Worth - in all their glory, the seas of red in the middle of both Dallas County and Tarrant, respectively. Their downtowns were both substantially better for Beto than they were for Biden, and that's why those two counties swung right between 2018 and 2020. Biden underran Beto by just over a point in Dallas and by a half point in Tarrant, but those topline shifts mask a lot of internal movement. And that internal movement is what matters, because it's not just about what this means for Texas.

Look at the places in Dallas and Tarrant where Biden did better than Beto - like, I don't know, Southlake? - and you see a pattern. It's white enclaves, where the rich go. It's the residents of the charity dinner circuit in Dallas, well-off white social liberals who would recoil if you used the wrong fork for the wrong course at a formal dinner. It's white money.

Go to the next counties up, and you see that Denton and Collin did swing left from 2018 to 2020, and the reason is pretty clear - their lack of singular big city means they're substantially whiter and more suburban, and that's why Denton stayed essentially the same (moving 0.1% left) while Collin moved nearly 2% left. The fact that they don't see the same central concentration of red is telling about what moved, and what didn't, between 2018 and 2020. The central Biden strength wasn't just with white degree holders, but centrally, white wealth.

The reason this matters is that the Democratic Party needs to understand their next winning coalition, not just in Texas but everywhere. Democrats did worse in the urban cities this year than in 2016, but made up for it with smashing successes in the outlying areas of those metro counties, and the suburban areas. The further you get from Dallas or Fort Worth, almost uniformly the better Biden did, and that pattern doesn't stop deep in the heart of Texas. Biden outperformed Tony Evers' 2018 result in the WOW-based Wisconsin 5th by 9% on route to his narrow victory in the state. Biden outran Stacey Abrams by 10% in Forsyth County in two years, and before someone yells at me about Forsyth being racist (which, sure, it is), Biden only outran Warnock by 2%.

Up and down the country, Biden did much better - or, at least, relative to statewide partisanship - in the white enclaves. In 2018, Oakland County, Michigan voted 7% left of the state, and in 2020, 11% left of the state. It's why despite losing Ohio by nearly four and a half points more, Biden ran even with Richard Cordray in Clermont, outran him by 1 in Butler, and outran him by 5 in Warren - and yes, outrunning Cordray by 6 in Hamilton, which has Cincinnati, but that growth mostly came in the north of the county, where the white people are. Again, it's white enclaves.

My objection to referring to what is happening as suburban shift is well known, because that kind of analysis actually obscures what is happening. The reason that that map of Jackson's is so valuable is that it delineates so clearly what actually happened - it's not about geography, but demography. Talking about the chances of a geographical reversion is a convenient myth, a way to avoid answering the question of how in the name of all that is holy are the GOP going to stop the bleeding in Southlake and Forsyth and the rest of the blue parts of this map.

Brian Kemp is signing a voter suppression law that won't actually achieve much voter suppression but speed up the GOP's demise in the suburbs and exurbs, Tucker Carlson has gone off the deep end because he knows that he needs to feed his audience anti-vax propaganda, and Donald Trump's endorsement is still the most coveted thing in GOP politics - and he's going on Fox Primetime to declare that the insurrection on January 6th was totally peaceful and not a problem.

The Quad shows every element of 2020 perfectly, between the way low propensity, not particularly affluent whites and Hispanics surged in turnout, and all broke for Trump, in 2020, to how the white enclaves keep getting bluer, even in a redder year in Texas. This map also highlights the two questions that haunt 2022 - will downtown Dallas and Fort Worth look like 2018 or 2020, and will Denton and Collin keep on moving left - as examples of the two broader questions about GOP turnout and potential social liberal reversion.

I think these four counties are what I'd ask for if I could know any result from 2022 to predict everything else properly, because if inner Dallas swings back to something like 2018 partisanship, then the GOP aren't getting their low propensity voters out to the polls, and if Denton and Collin look like 2020 - or even worse for the GOP - then the GOP are going to be in their attempts to win back Governorships in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, amongst others. If Denton swings left, then Nancy Mace is probably out of Congress (assuming Joe Cunningham runs again) and there's a good chance all those Biden/GOP districts in California get wiped out too (at least those that redistricting doesn't destroy itself).

The Quad are just four counties, but they're a representation of the entire US. Tell me what happens there, and I can tell you whether Democrats have 47 Senate seats after 2022 or 53. This map tells you what the GOP has to do to stop 2022 being a Georgia Runoff redux - they need to either keep that turnout that spiked in the inner metros at 2020 levels - which the Georgia GOP failed to do - or stop Southlake from continuing to lurch left, which, uh, best of luck to you with that, I guess.

I'm generally very against grand unified theories or, God forbid, bellwethers, but such as anything is important, the Quad was the perfect distillation of 2020 in one metro area, and now, as goes the Quad, so goes the nation. At least, if you know the swings to be looking for.