Connecticut lived up to its reputation as a blue state in the 2016 elections. It gave Hillary Clinton a solid 14-point margin of victory, a small drop from Obama’s 17-point margin in 2012 but still a solid victory. However, the winning coalition that Clinton put together in Connecticut was markedly different from Obama’s 2012 coalition. In the U.S. Senate election that was held at the same time, incumbent Democrat Richard Blumenthal won a massive 29-point victory, and became the first person in Connecticut history to receive over a million votes in a single election.
But in what way, considering that Clinton basically ran for Obama’s third term, was her coalition so different from Obama’s in 2012? Where did Clinton outperform and underperform Obama, and what factors caused those shifts? And how did Blumenthal’s performance compare to Clinton’s? For answers to those questions, and more maps and analysis, read on.
The above map shows the town-by-town results of the 2016 presidential election. In most ways, this looks like a normal election results map of Connecticut, however you may get the impression that there’s more red than usual in eastern Connecticut and more blue than usual in Fairfield County. Let’s confirm this by looking at a comparison between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.
And sure enough, a large swath of eastern Connecticut swung heavily toward Trump, while most of Fairfield County swung heavily toward Clinton. The pattern, as with many other states, has to do with race, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status, as working-class whites swung heavily to Trump, while wealthy, college-educated voters moved toward Clinton. These shifts were not isolated to eastern Connecticut or Fairfield County – the Naugatuck Valley, which is a heavily white working-class area, swung substantially in Trump’s direction, while the rich western suburbs of Hartford (places like Farmington, Avon, and Simsbury) swung strongly toward Clinton.
In fact, these shifts were strong enough to turn previously well-established voting patterns completely on their head. New Canaan and Darien, two ultra-rich towns in Fairfield County, are the best examples of this. New Canaan voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964, and Darien had not voted for one since at least 1920 (the archives on the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s website only go back to 1922). And they weren’t even close this year – Clinton won both New Canaan and Darien by 11 percentage points. There were also several towns that Trump won that hadn’t been won by Republican presidential candidates since their landslides in the 1980s.
Before we get to the U.S. Senate election, let’s take a look at voter turnout.
Voter turnout increased from 2012 in all but nine of the 169 towns in Connecticut. As the map shows, many of the areas with large increases in turnout, specifically Killingly/Plainfield and the Naugatuck Valley, also swung heavily toward Trump, indicating that many voters there came out to vote specifically for him. However, turnout also increased substantially in Lyme and Stamford, both of which swung toward Clinton. African-American turnout generally decreased slightly since there was no longer an African-American on the ballot – this can be seen in Hartford and Bloomfield, which are 39 and 58 percent African-American respectively. The largest turnout drop of any town in Connecticut was in New Haven, which also has a large African-American population. Turnout among college students was mixed, since on the one hand, New Haven’s drop in turnout makes it likely that turnout was lower among Yale students, but on the other hand, the town of Mansfield, home to UConn, saw a large increase in turnout.
U.S. Senate Election
One-term Democratic U.S. Senator (and former 20-year state AG) Richard Blumenthal won re-election in a massive 29-point landslide, winning over a million votes and losing only 17 towns (none with more than 25,000 people).
Blumenthal’s map bears a striking similarity to Obama’s 2008 map, with Blumenthal generally outperforming Obama ’08 by about 2 percentage points across the state. The only town that gave Blumenthal less than 40 percent (and the only town to give his Republican opponent, Dan Carter, over 55 percent) was Hartland, a small town northwest of Hartford along the border with Massachusetts; Hartland was Obama’s worst town in 2008 as well. But Hillary’s coalition looked dramatically different from Obama’s, so let’s compare Hillary’s and Blumenthal’s performances.
As the map shows, Blumenthal outperformed Hillary in all but eight towns in Connecticut. But let’s look deeper. One interesting pattern that you might notice is that the towns where Blumenthal outperformed Hillary by the widest margins, colored in navy blue on the map, are also places where Trump outperformed Romney by the widest margins (places like Ansonia, East Haven, and that row of towns in eastern Connecticut). It must also be noted that Congressman Joe Courtney and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (both Democrats) won those towns in landslides. Thus, many of the voters in those towns, who generally vote for Democrats, voted for Trump for President but voted for Democratic candidates downballot.
The reverse happened as well. The eight towns where Hillary outperformed Blumenthal all saw Hillary massively outperform Obama 2012. And in the congressional election there, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes lost New Canaan and Darien, and won the six other towns by smaller margins than Hillary did. Thus, in the wealthy Fairfield County towns, there were plenty of (normally Republican) voters who voted for Hillary and then voted for Republicans downballot.
Thus, the moral of the story here is that ticket-splitting, even in federal elections, is alive and well.
Overall, Connecticut’s election results show that it is still solidly in the blue column. The only way for a Republican to win Connecticut would be for them to post Romney-like margins in Connecticut’s wealthy suburbs, and, at the same time, perform as well as Trump did in the white working-class towns. That would require an extremely talented and scandal-free Republican candidate, or (or possibly and) a really crappy Democratic candidate. And even then they’d probably need to cut a bit into the Democrat’s inevitable margins in the cities in order to have a shot at winning.
Stay tuned for my next article analyzing the 2016 election results in New England!