False alarms

Bellwether election counties do not merit the epithet

WHEN predicting how America will vote, one popular crystal ball is the “bellwether county”. “Magic Town”, a 1947 film, envisioned a fictional town of Grandview that was a perfect microcosm of America, where everyone “thinks the way the whole country does.” Vigo County in Indiana, home to 100,000 people, appears to be America’s real-life Grandview: it has voted for the winner in 24 of the past 25 presidential contests. Every four years journalists flock there in the hope of taking the pulse of the nation.

Vigo’s record is remarkable, but many other counties are close on its heels. During the past century, 110 different counties (there are more than 3,000 in total) have voted for the winner in at least 12 consecutive presidential elections. It is natural to assume that such places must at least be broadly representative of the country as a whole, even if they are not necessarily populated entirely by soothsayers. The data suggest otherwise. Just two-thirds of these counties went on to pick the president correctly the 13th time.

Read the full article on Economist.com