How Do Cities Vote?
September 14, 2010 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Where do you find American electoral data by city?

I occasionally stumble on the claim that all or nearly all big American cities have majority Democratic electorates (for example, Jonathan Raban noting that all cities of half a million or more voted for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election). I've tried several times to find the evidence -- a set of recent electoral data organized by cities rather than states or electoral districts -- but have come up empty. Do any of you know where it is?
posted by gum to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd imagine by checking the BOE or SOS websites for each state or maybe even each county. Here's information for New York:

I doubt there's a (free) national database that covers the whole country.
posted by meta_eli at 5:18 PM on September 14, 2010

Have you tried There's tons of great info there.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:33 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: is definitely a great resource, but I haven't had any luck with this question there.

I think it's funny that, in its first half hour of life, this thread has already reached #12 on Google for the search ["electoral data" city]!
posted by gum at 5:42 PM on September 14, 2010

Here's the related information from North Carolina. Within about 2 minutes, I was able to see how the 10 voters who voted in one particular precinct of Haywood County voted on Election Day in the second Primary.

Note that the information available online is less detailed the older you get. For that more detailed information, you will be able to do research (the old fashioned kind) at the State Archives. Precinct returns have recently been prepared for research by a volunteer worker.

Probably, you'll have to do this research state-by-state, realizing that their information will be in varying stages of 'at your fingertips.'
posted by ES Mom at 6:38 PM on September 14, 2010

You can find it on most state's Secretary of State websites. Its usually called an "Election Canvass Report" and is a tally of votes for each candidate based on electoral districts (usually precincts and counties).

The type of electoral districts varies greatly state by state. Some have precinct, others have counties, cities and wards, others have townships. Those with precincts sometimes have obvious naming schemes for the precinct, like City-Precinct-A. Other will have wacky, meainingless without a key naming schemes, like precinct-AW001.

I don't know of anyone that has compiled results state by state and made them available for free, although theoretically it would be possible.
posted by gus at 6:48 PM on September 14, 2010

Oh, and check out Pf Andrew Gelman's book "Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State" for more analysis like Raban noted.
posted by gus at 6:51 PM on September 14, 2010

The network folks who report on election night use Secretary of State data (one they're past the exit polling) and then they have their own notes to rely on when they want to make future claims. Every other thing I've seen either relies on a CNN report or goes and pulls up the secretary of state info.

My guess is that some poking around should reward you with a dissertation that shows a website that keeps track of it all in the citations, but that website is just cataloging info from the secretaries of state.

And it's a bear to sort out the data from some states, if cities cross county lines or are otherwise on a "add up these precincts but not those" sort of deal. This is why most people cite CNN or NBC or whatever.
posted by SMPA at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2010

If you want data broken out by locality, go to This is a gold mine if you have a good grasp of electoral geography. Unforunately, since we have a 50-state patchwork of what constitutes a city and how cities relate to counties, apples-to-apples comparisons of "cities" are near impossible. Where do you draw the line, city limits? Virginia's "cities" are separately incorporated and equivalent to counties. Other states have "cities" that are portions of counties.

You want to see how "urban" voters vote. For an in-depth analysis I'd recommend Bill Bishop's work, like this post on Slate and his book "The Big Sort".
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:45 PM on September 14, 2010

Do any of you know where it is?

There is no "it." Election data is either organized by state, by county, or by district, if it's organized at all.

There may be limited data sets that have been pulled by individual researchers to prove particular hypotheses, but those won't address your specific question. My sense is that this question has been researched by election-focused/urban-focused political scientists but that the question has not been subjected to hard data analysis recently, i.e., within the last 8-10 years.

Cities' election departments vary in terms of their collecting this data. Some are better than others. San Francisco (just one example) has an great trove of data going back to the 1995 mayoral runoff between Willie Brown and Frank Jordan. But again this doesn't go to the point that you're attempting to study. The only way to do it is to dig, go to individual city election websites, call election departments if necessary, and even take trips. There's no one solution.
posted by blucevalo at 11:08 AM on September 15, 2010

Response by poster: OK, here's a defunct voting behavior thinktank that ranked all American cities with 100,000 residents or more on a liberal/conservative continuum back in 2005. No numbers and not a shred of methodology, though -- I'll keep looking!
posted by gum at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2010

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