The coronavirus is clearly on the move in some smaller towns and rural areas that hadn't experienced the worst of it while larger cities like New York and Detroit were bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
Coronavirus Continues To Move Into Previously Insulated Red Counties In Battleground States
A sign in support of Donald Trump hung on a farming tractor near a polling station on November 8, 2016 in Cave Creek, Arizona.Credit: Getty Images
May 19, 2020

Several weeks ago, demographer William Frey started tracking new counties across the country that had crossed the threshold of having 100 or more coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and found the contagion was newly spreading to more counties Trump won in 2016.

Now new reporting from the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reveals that the trend is continuing and even starting to impact counties in some important battleground states. “This is moving into parts of the swing states that really haven’t seen the pandemic as much,” Frey told Sargent. “And this is likely to continue.”

Over the last three weeks, Frey found that the number of counties newly entering into this "high-COVID" category had shifted significantly away from counties Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and into Trump country. Specifically, some 548 counties Trump won had now become high-COVID areas while only about 102 counties Clinton won had newly entered the category. Part of that disparity is a function of the fact that Trump won far more counties in 2016 while Clinton captured higher-density counties, and part of it is a function of the fact that Clinton counties were hit earlier on by the virus. Nonetheless, the virus is clearly on the move in some smaller towns and rural areas that hadn't experienced the worst of it while larger cities like New York and Detroit were bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

In total nationwide, Frey found 1,014 Trump counties are now high-COVID while just 350 Clinton counties are. Sargent also asked specifically what that meant for some battleground states (including Georgia, which, who knows?). Anyway, here's the numbers:

  • Florida: 15 new Trump counties
  • Michigan: 17 new Trump counties
  • Pennsylvania: 11 new Trump counties
  • Wisconsin: 8 new Trump counties
  • North Carolina: 26 new Trump counties
  • Arizona: 3 new Trump counties
  • Georgia: 40 new Trump counties

That's 120 counties total, including Georgia, a state that's become particularly interesting for multiple reasons. First, there's an outside chance that both Senate seats in the state are at least within reach, even if it's a far reach. Additionally, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is one of the only governors in the country who actually has lower approvals for his coronavirus handling than Trump (39% vs. 44%). North Carolina's Democratic governor Roy Cooper, for instance, has a 74% approval rating for his pandemic response, while Trump's response rating sits at 49%.

Also interesting are states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump won by very small margins in 2016, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas.

“Those margins in the small counties helped put him over the top,” Frey said, adding that people who bought into the idea that they were safe in these regions may ultimately end up taking a more critical look at Trump's handling of the pandemic if they are personally touched by it.

And remember, we're not taking about a wholesale defection here. Trump's margins are so slim that shifting a point or two here and a point or two there could really make all the difference in November.

The map below shows the progression of high-COVID areas from denser urban areas earlier on in the outbreak (purple, blue, and dark green) to generally less populated areas in recent weeks (light green and yellow).


Posted with permission from Daily Kos.

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