You could swing the presidential election by moving a single county between states

Let's take a look at what you could have won. Image: Getty.

There's a fascinating Washington Post article doing the rounds at the moment, which shows that – by two US state boundaries were in very slightly different places, moves so tiny that you’d barely spot them on the map – then Hillary Clinton would be president elect right now.

Thanks to the vagaries of the electoral college system, not a single vote would have had to change hands. Move four counties between states, and Clinton would have won Florida and Wisconsin, giving her 271 electoral votes, to Donald Trump's 269. The world right now would feel like a very different place.

This got me wondering, though – could we go further than this? Could we swing the election by moving just one county?

This is Los Angeles county, California. It's home to over 10m people, making it larger than 40 individual US states.

It's also – being urban, coastal and Californian – not very friendly to Donald Trump. He won just 23.4 per cent of the vote there – around 620,000 votes. Clinton won 71.4 per cent, or 1.9m votes, giving her an edge of just under 1.3m votes.

The state-wide result was closer, but not much closer. Clinton got 7.4m votes, or 61.6 per cent; Trump got 3.9m votes, or 32.8 per cent. All of which means you can remove Los Angeles county from California, and Clinton would still win the state.

So the question is – is there a state where the margin was less than 1.3m votes, and which has enough electoral college votes to flip the election?

In Texas, Donald Trump beat Clinton by 52.6 per cent to 43.4 per cent, handing him the state's 38 electoral college votes. This wasn't a surprise – no Democrat has won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The surprise, if anything, was that the margin was under 10 per cent.

But to get that result, Trump only needed to win around 814,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton: 4.7m to 3.9m. That, you’ll notice, is a smaller margin than the one by which Clinton won LA.

And so, if Los Angeles county was a part of Texas, Hillary would have won the state's electoral college votes. In that alternative reality, of course, Texas would carry more than its current 38 electoral college votes, and California less than its 55. But the exact distribution doesn't matter: the point is, Clinton would have won all those votes.

She'd have hit the magic number of 270 and won the election.


Okay, so this is silly on a number of levels. It's silly because Los Angeles very obviously isn't in Texas: it’s three states and 700 miles away, and about as different a culture as one can imagine within a single country. It's silly, too, because in this parallel universe I've just invented, the campaigns would have made different choices about how they fought the election. A Republican party that couldn’t win Texas would be a very different Republican party. The whole election would have played out differently.

But it goes to show quite how silly the entire electoral college system itself is, too. Move two state boundaries slightly – even shift a single county from one state to another – and without a single voter changing their mind you get the exact opposite result. In an election that wasn’t even that close.

We've often noted that the exact location of political boundaries can have weird effects on our cities. But it's rare those effects are quite as significant as this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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These maps of petition signatories show which bits of the country are most enthusiastic about scrapping Brexit

The Scottish bit. Image: UK Parliament.

As anyone in the UK who has been near an internet connection today will no doubt know, there’s a petition on Parliament’s website doing the rounds. It rejects Theresa May’s claim – inevitably, and tediously, repeated again last night – that Brexit is the will of the people, and calls on the government to end the current crisis by revoking Article 50. At time of writing it’s had 1,068,554 signatures, but by the time you read this it will definitely have had quite a lot more.

It is depressingly unlikely to do what it sets out to do, of course: the Prime Minister is not in listening mode, and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has already been seen snarking that as soon as it gets 17.4m votes, the same number that voted Leave in 2016, the government will be sure to give it due care and attention.

So let’s not worry about whether or not the petition will be successful and instead look at some maps.

This one shows the proportion of voters in each constituency who have so far signed the petition: darker colours means higher percentages. The darkest constituencies tend to be smaller, because they’re urban areas with a higher population density.

And it’s clear the petition is most popular in, well, exactly the sort of constituencies that voted for Remain three years ago: Cambridge (5.1 per cent), Bristol West (5.6 per cent), Brighton Pavilion (5.7 per cent) and so on. Hilariously, Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North is also at 5.1 per cent, the highest in London, despite its MP clearly having remarkably little interest in revoking article 50.

By the same token, the sort of constituencies that aren’t signing this thing are – sit down, this may come as a shock – the sort of places that tended to vote Leave in 2016. Staying with the London area, the constituencies of the Essex fringe (Ilford South, Hornchurch & Upminster, Romford) are struggling to break 1 per cent, and some (Dagenham & Rainham) have yet to manage half that. You can see similar figures out west by Heathrow.

And you can see the same pattern in the rest of the country too: urban and university constituencies signing in droves, suburban and town ones not bothering. The only surprise here is that rural ones generally seem to be somewhere in between.

The blue bit means my mouse was hovering over that constituency when I did the screenshot, but I can’t be arsed to redo.

One odd exception to this pattern is the West Midlands, where even in the urban core nobody seems that bothered. No idea, frankly, but interesting, in its way:

Late last year another Brexit-based petition took off, this one in favour of No Deal. It’s still going, at time of writing, albeit only a third the size of the Revoke Article 50 one and growing much more slowly.

So how does that look on the map? Like this:

Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an inversion of the new one: No Deal is most popular in suburban and rural constituencies, while urban and university seats don’t much fancy it. You can see that most clearly by zooming in on London again:

Those outer east London constituencies in which people don’t want to revoke Article 50? They are, comparatively speaking, mad for No Deal Brexit.

The word “comparatively” is important here: far fewer people have signed the No Deal one, so even in those Brexit-y Essex fringe constituencies, the actual number of people signing it is pretty similar the number saying Revoke. But nonetheless, what these two maps suggest to me is that the new political geography revealed by the referendum is still largely with us.


In the 20 minutes it’s taken me to write this, the number of signatures on the Revoke Article 50 has risen to 1,088,822, by the way. Will of the people my arse.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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