NJ less divided? Blue counties got redder while red ones got bluer
For all the talk of partisan polarization, New Jersey's presidential election map shows a state that’s somewhat less divided than four years ago.
Some of the bluest counties in New Jersey got redder, with President Donald Trump narrowing his margins by 6 percentage points in Hudson and Passaic counties. And some of the reddest counties got bluer, with President-elect Joe Biden improving on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins by around 10 points in Sussex and Warren counties.
Only two counties actually flipped parties: Gloucester and Morris, which backed Trump in 2016 but preferred Biden. So perhaps it’s better to say some deeply Democratic blue and Republican red counties got a bit paler.
Rider University political scientist Micah Rasmussen called the results, which will be certified by state officials next week, “a microcosm of what we saw in the rest of the country.” Trump made some gains in parts of the Democratic base, such as cities and among younger minority populations, but Biden gained even more in the suburbs and some rural regions.
“It didn’t alter the final result. The margin statewide is still the same. But if you are a Republican looking at these results, you can see sort of a roadmap of where you want to go,” Rasmussen said.
The county trends certainly don’t mean New Jersey’s results were uniform statewide – far from it. In winning the state by roughly 16 percentage points, Biden won by 40 points or more in Essex, Hudson and Mercer counties. Trump still won Ocean County by nearly 29 points, one of seven counties he won.
Biden received a record 2.6 million votes in New Jersey. He improved on Clinton's 2016 record by 21%, or 460,000 votes, with the biggest gains coming in the suburbs – up roughly 55,000 in Bergen, 44,000 in Monmouth, 39,000 in Morris and 33,000 in Middlesex.
“This has been a tough four years for suburban Republicans across the country, and that particularly means it’s been a tough four years for New Jersey Republicans,” Rasmussen said.
Some formerly Republican strongholds are now solidly Democratic. Biden won Burlington County by 19.5 percentage points. He won Somerset County by nearly 21 percentage points – only slightly less than the 22-point edge Biden enjoyed in neighboring, long-blue Middlesex County.
“This was a trend that was happening already, and the fact that Biden was particularly attractive to people in those counties and that demographic was enough to push him over the edge,” Rasmussen said.
In terms of the vote margin, Biden's biggest gain was in Sussex County, where Trump won by 19.5 percentage points after winning it by 30.3 points in 2016. Biden narrowed the Democrats’ loss by 9.4 points in Warren County and 9.5 points in Hunterdon County.
“The reality is is that Joe Biden was a moderate candidate who really was not rejected among any group. It was not like he was unliked. He was well-regarded among all voters,” Rasmussen said.
Despite getting basically the same share of the vote in New Jersey as four years ago, a bit over 41%, Trump came within 50,000 votes of topping Ronald Reagan's 1984 record for votes for a Republican presidential candidate, growing his vote total by 281,300 compared with 2016.
Trump’s biggest percentage growth came in Hudson (+34%) and Passaic (+26%) counties, which could be a sign that his improved performance among Hispanic voters was also seen in New Jersey. In all, Trump improved his share of the vote in six counties.
In Passaic County, voter turnout increased by almost 30,000, and Trump improved his margin by almost 7,000 – losing by 37,000, rather than almost 44,000.
In Hudson County, where the number of voters increased by 31,000, Biden won by only 880 more votes than Clinton did four years ago.
“I see shades of Miami-Dade here, particularly among the Cuban-American population. If you think about where the most Cuban-Americans live in this country, first is Miami-Dade. Second is Hudson County,” Rasmussen said. “You would expect the same trends that you saw in South Florida played out here in Hudson County as well.”
In 2016, Clinton won Miami-Dade County by 29.4 percentage points, or 290,000 votes. BIden won the county by 7.3 points, or 85,000 votes, as Trump again won Florida.
“What we know about Cuban-American voters: They hated the socialism stuff. They just hated the idea of defunding the police,” he said. “They are moderate to conservative voters, and so they responded to Trump’s strong message, sort of the chest-thumping message.”
Rasmussen said the county trends are interesting but didn’t fundamentally change the results in a state that has now voted for Democrats for president in eight straight elections.
“Overall, this is what happens when you get everybody voting. We have not had this kind of turnout in probably a hundred years,” Rasmussen said.
Voter turnout was nearly 72%, but that only tells part of the story as voter registration has spiked. The number of voters who cast ballots this year was 17% higher than four years ago.
Rasmussen said the share of eligible voters who turned out in the election may have been the highest since 1900.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.