A deep demographic and political divide revealed itself in America during this year’s presidential election, with ethnically diverse urban areas largely backing Hillary Clinton and mostly white rural areas largely backing Donald Trump.
That same divide can be found in California, even as Clinton won the state by millions of votes.
Trump beat Clinton in 25 California counties, mostly in the Central Valley and the mountains of Northern California, places that long have been bastions of conservatism. But in 14 California counties, Trump won really big – beating Clinton by at least 10 percentage points and earning a higher share of votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
These 14 counties have much in common with one other – but have sharp differences when compared with the rest of California.
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Ten of the 14 are located in Northern California, mostly in the “State of Jefferson,” the largely rural expanse between Sacramento and Oregon where activists have been pushing to form their own state. The remaining four are in California’s Gold Country region, in the western Sierra foothills southeast of Sacramento.
With 650,000 residents, these 14 counties make up just 2 percent of the state’s population, but almost 25 percent of its land area.
Among the characteristics they share: They are collectively losing population, even as the rest of the state grows. In terms of ethnicity, they remain relatively homogenous – about 75 percent white – while the state as a whole is majority minority.
Their residents are more likely to have served in the military: 12 percent of adults are veterans, double the rate elsewhere in California. About 18 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 31 percent elsewhere. About 41 percent are over age 50, compared to 30 percent elsewhere. Gun sale rates in these counties were more than double the rate in the rest of the state.
These 14 counties are among the few places in California where housing remains affordable, with median home prices below the statewide average. Even so, economic and health conditions in many cases have reached a crisis point. Suicide rates are double the rates elsewhere in the state. So are accidental drug overdose rates. Incomes are relatively low, with a third of households making less than $30,000 a year.
And their children are often on their way out. Net migration of 15- to 30-year-olds in these counties was negative 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, as many more youths left than arrived.
With a scarcity of residents, they have little political power to focus the state’s attention on their problems.
These 14 “Trump country” counties, though, should not be shorthanded simply as “rural California,” because the state’s rural counties are not politically or demographically uniform.
Large swaths of the state’s southern rural expanse – counties such as Imperial and San Benito that are heavily Latino – rejected Trump. So did several counties with demographics similar to the 14 counties in “Trump country,” places such as Nevada County, Humboldt County, Mendocino County and Alpine County.
In California, as it turns out, even rural counties aren’t so easily classified.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; California Employment Development Department; California Department of Public Health; University of New Hampshire; U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Zillow.com
Note: Median home price data uses Shasta County as an example. Updated 11/17 to reflect latest election counts.
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