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Use This Neat Tool To See If Your County Can Predict The Election

Plus a helpful cheat sheet of five counties to watch on Nov. 8

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Every four years the news media pay close attention to Vigo County, Indiana in hopes of finding out who the next president of the United States will be. That’s because the candidate who won that county’s vote has also won the national vote in each of the past 15 elections.

Fifteen is quite a long run! But it doesn’t guarantee that Vigo County will be right the next time. With more than 3,000 counties in the country, after all, you could find counties to fit almost any imaginable voting pattern. Maybe Vigo County’s lucky streak was just coincidence.

What’s more, if you look closely you’ll find that even during those 15 previous elections, the county wasn’t always that precise an indicator. For instance, in 2012 the county’s voters went with Barack Obama, who indeed won the election, but his national margin was 8.5 points lower than it was in that chunk of western Indiana.

So BuzzFeed News set out in search of a more accurate model. We began by analyzing the county-by-county results of every presidential election starting in 1972. What we found: For any given election, if you select the five counties that came closest to the national results over the previous four elections, then take the average spread between the Republican and Democratic nominees in those five counties, the result comes surprisingly close to the national spread between the candidates.

Do you live in a bellwether? Type or click on your county to see how closely its votes track those of the nation as a whole.


This method got us within one percentage point of the national popular vote in five of the past seven elections. But major caveat: This time around, shifting electoral preferences could alter the delicate balance that has made these five counties so accurate in the past. This is, after all, the craziest election in recent history.

That said, this year, the five bellwether counties are:

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Dakota County, Minnesota

Tony Webster / Via commons.wikimedia.org

In the past four presidential contests, the Republican-Democrat split in Dakota has never been off the national results by more than 1.7 percentage points, with an average miss of 1.1 points. No other county in the country has come so close every time. Located just south of Minneapolis and bordered by the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, Dakota County is the third most populous in the state. The county, which is 85.2% white and slightly more educated than the national average, has a median household income more than $20,000 greater than the national median.

Macomb County, Michigan

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Macomb County is to the northeast of Detroit and has been within two points of the result in each of the past four elections. The biggest miss was in 2000, when it underestimated George W. Bush’s chance of victory by 1.9 percentage points. The county, which is 85.4% white, has a median household income close to national median, according to the U.S. Census. Warren is the largest city in Macomb County and also where Eminem grew up. Hillary Clinton delivered a speech on the economy there back in August.

Granville County, North Carolina

Cecouchman / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Located in the north central part of North Carolina, Granville County’s population is more diverse than the other four bellwether counties. The county's population is 60.4% white, while 32.8% is black or African-American. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won their respective primaries in the county back in March. Granville missed the 2000 election results by 1.9 percentage points, its largest error of the past four elections. It under-predicted Obama’s 2008 election by 0.6 points and then over-predicted his re-election in 2012 by a similar 0.7 percentage points.

Calhoun County, Michigan

Tim Clayton / Getty Images

The largest city in this southern Michigan county is Battle Creek, home to the cereal company Kellogg. The county went to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in March and Trump won the Republican primary. The median income is $10,000 below the national median. Calhoun is 79.8% white and 10.7% of the population is black or African-American. Its biggest miss of the past four elections came in 2012, when it over-predicted Mitt Romney’s share of the vote by 2.3 points.

Cedar County, Iowa

Farragutful / Via commons.wikimedia.org

On the eastern side of Iowa, Cedar County is situated between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City to the west, and Quad Cities to the southeast. Its biggest miss came in 2008, when it over-predicted Obama’s share by 2.4 points. In the 2012 election the county was off by just 0.7 percentage points. The county is 97.5% white with a median household income more than $6,000 above the national median. Back in February, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders carried Cedar County in the Iowa caucuses.

John Templon is a data reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2FF6 89D6 9606 812D 5663 C7CE 2DFF BE75 55E5 DF99

Contact John Templon at john.templon@buzzfeed.com.

Chris Applegate is an editorial developer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Chris Applegate at chris.applegate@buzzfeed.com.

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