‘Forgotten Man’ Comeback Story: Under Trump, Red Counties Economically Thrive

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Red counties that voted for GOP President Donald Trump are booming more economically under his presidency than blue counties that voted for his Democrat opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a new report from the liberal Brookings Institution shows.

Brookings’ Mark Muro and Jason Whiton wrote on Tuesday:

As the 2020 conversations ramp up, the “red and blue” economic growth patterns in the U.S. continue to be an enormous focal point. Now, as new data comes out on the years 2017 to 2018 and the president crows, it’s clear that counties that voted for President Trump have been ‘winning’ a little—or at least winning a little more than they were. Specifically, the geography of growth has changed somewhat—at least for the moment: Counties that voted for Donald Trump are seeing a bit faster employment growth than they were in the Obama years and are now adding jobs a little faster than are counties that voted for Hillary Clinton.

These red counties that voted for Trump over Clinton delivered him 306 electoral votes and victories in 30 and a half states, while Clinton won the popular vote but failed to win even 20 states, finishing with just 19 and a half states plus the District of Columbia for just 227 electoral votes. The bet on Trump seems to be paying off, as under the Trump administration these counties are outpacing the blue Clinton counties in growth trajectory.

Muro and Whiton wrote:

From 2010 to 2017, counties that voted for Clinton added jobs at a rate of 1.7 percent annually, compared to the 1.5 percent growth rate in Trump-voting areas. But in 2017 and 2018, the pattern looks different. From January 2017 to September 2018, both Clinton and Trump counties saw an uptick in job creation. However, the increase was significantly larger in Trump counties where the annualized rate of growth increased from 1.5 percent to 2.6 percent a year.

In other words, Muro and Whiton wrote, since the election in 2016, the counties that voted for Trump have seen significant turnaround–even though the counties that voted for Clinton are still in total outperforming the Trump counties despite the rapid rate turnaround in the Trump counties over the past couple years.

Muro and Whiton wrote:

Given that, the locus of growth really is a little different than it was in the lead-up to the 2016 election. As before, the 490 counties that voted for Clinton continue to massively predominate in the sheer volume and productivity of their economic activity. Together they accounted for two-thirds of the nation’s employment growth and three-quarters of its GDP growth. But during the first 21 months of the Trump administration, as people and jobs once again begin to spread out and sprawl, job growth rates in the 2,622 Trump-voting counties have gone from lagging behind those in Clinton counties to outpacing them. Redder, smaller, more exurban, and rural counties really are ‘winning’ a little more—at least for now.

Muro and Whiton later in their piece note that while Trump may engage in “excessive crowing” to brag about these Trump county successes, they argue his policies had not much to do with the middle America comeback.

“What’s going on here?” they wrote. “It’s pretty clear that the modest, probably temporary, gains of red counties likely have little to do with Trump-era policies and much to do with familiar cyclical and sectoral economic patterns.”

While they claim that the heartland’s comeback does not have to do with Trump’s policies, Trump would argue differently–and has.

“Maybe the economy,” Trump replied when Breitbart News asked him in a recent Oval Office interview what his biggest accomplishment was in his view. “Look at jobs. Best jobs record in 60 years. Best individual records for Asians, for African-Americans, for Hispanics ever. I think the economy—but I think a lot of things. Regulations—I think regulations led to the economy, the tax cuts. Even in the tax cuts we got ANWR. Nobody for 50 years could get it and I got it approved—you know, the biggest drilling site. So we’ve done a good job—so in theory it’s easier because I can say, ‘look what I’ve done’ as opposed to the first time where I said, ‘I can do this.’”

When even the Brookings Institution–a left-of-center liberal think tank–is admitting that the economic data support a middle America comeback under Trump, that is remarkable–even though the group will not give Trump credit for it. But, generally speaking, the data that the Brookings Institution report show an intense focus on that “forgotten man” that Trump talked about at his inauguration and that he has been focused on throughout his presidency.



As Trump keeps barreling toward re-election in 2020, the economy continues outperforming expectations–with records being set in many demographics and statistics. Trump keeps hammering the message home, too, and has been throughout his presidency–and is likely to intensify that message going into the 2020 campaign.



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