An Early Look at the GOP’s Working-Class Coalition in the Biden Pivot Counties

By November 28, 2022Uncategorized

By Drew Weinstock, Research Analyst

In March of 2021, Congressman Jim Banks, chair of the Republican Study Committee, addressed a memo to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy with the header “Cementing GOP as the Working-Class Party.” In the memo, Banks set a rough framework by which to view the shift of the Republican Party’s coalition since the 2016 election and how it ought to be interpreted in strategizing for the 2022 midterms. Among other recommendations, Banks suggested that the GOP “highlight the cultural and economic elitism that animates the Democratic Party.”[1]

Fast forward to the close of the 2022 midterm elections. White non-college educated voters, which can be considered white working-class, moved from supporting Republican Congressional candidates by a +24% margin in the 2018 midterms to a +34% margin this year.[2] Voter turnout analysis also suggests continued Republican strength among working-class voters. As Karl Rove noted earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, Republicans received 54 million votes and Democrats received 50.5 million votes this cycle with some votes still outstanding in California. In 2018, Republicans received 51 million votes compared to 60.7 million for Democrats. White non-college educated voters represented 41% of overall turnout this year compared to 40% of 2018 turnout.[3]

This cycle, the Republican Party ran on the issues of inflation, immigration, and crime, while the Democratic Party ran on abortion access, gun control, and protecting democracy. Exit polling performed by NBC News offered a specific focus on how white non-college educated voters registered with each party’s midterm agenda.[4] While Democrats’ much discussed issue of protecting democracy was not included in this question, narrowing the Democrats’ agenda to abortion and gun control would show that 34% of white non-college educated voters agree with these priorities. On the contrary, narrowing the Republican agenda to inflation and crime shows that 44% of white non-college educated voters agree with these priorities. This level of agreement with the Republican agenda jumps to 47% if the top issues are defined as inflation and immigration. Either way, the Republican midterm agenda appears to have held a clear advantage among core working-class demographics.

White, Non-College Educated [5]

Which ONE of these five issues mattered most in deciding how you voted today?

Issue Top Issue %
Crime 9%
Abortion 23%
Inflation 35%
Gun Policy 11%
Immigration 12%


Furthermore, amidst an election environment in which Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, one barometer of success could be signs of Republican improvement in historically competitive or Democratic-leaning areas.

Looking back over the 2008, 2012, and 2016 presidential elections, 206 counties, commonly referred to as “pivot counties,” supported Barack Obama twice before flipping to Donald Trump in 2016.[6]  Among those 206 counties, 25 flipped back in 2020 and supported Joe Biden, which can be referred to as “Biden pivot counties” for simplicity’s sake. In addition, last year’s census data suggests the Biden pivot counties’ demographics are closer than average to working-class (i.e., proportionately more white and less college educated). According to similar analysis by FiveThirtyEight after the 2016 election, these counties can be considered “medium-education.”[7] On average, 30% of those in the Biden pivot counties hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the 30.4% average considered medium-education by FiveThirtyEight in 2016.

In short, if the Republican party succeeded in “cementing” this subsection of the population, there ought to be identifiable electoral progress in pealing these voters away from the Democrats.

So, how did Republicans fare in the Biden pivot counties? Are there signs of improvement in 2022?

For the most part, the answer is “yes.” Of the 25 Biden pivot counties, 14 indicate moving toward the GOP since 2020, while 3 appear to be moving more toward the Democrats. The remaining 8 do not paint a clear picture of moving in either partisan direction or have yet to post clear county-level results.

Below is a table of the 14 GOP-favorable counties.[8]

County 2020 Biden Margin 2020 House Margin 2022 House Margin House Margin ∆
Blaine County, MT[9] +4% D +10% R +24% R +34%
Broome County, NY +3% D +16% R +3% R +19%
Clay County, MN +4% D +18% D +2% R +16%
Pinellas County, FL +0.2% D +6% R +8% R +14%
Rensselaer County, NY +6% D +0.5% R +10% R +10.5%
Blue Earth County, MN +4% D +10% D +2% R +8%
Montgomery County, OH +2% R +10% R +20% R +10%
Nicollet County, MN +3% D +10% R +0.2% R +10%
Winona County, MN +0.4% D +7% R +3% R +10%
Kent County, DE +4% D +4% R +2% R +6%
Gloucester County, NJ[10] +2% D +7%; R +7% D +9%; R +10% D +2%; R +3%
Essex County, NY +5% R +3% D +2% D +5%
Saratoga County, NY[11] +5% D +12%; R +14% R +5%
Ziebach County, SD[12] +9% R +28% R +26%


A few of the above counties do not indicate movement toward the GOP based only on the latest Congressional results. However, a rightward shift can be seen in taking Senate and governors’ race results into consideration.

For example, Gloucester County, New Jersey supported its two incumbent Congressman, a Democrat in CD-1 and a Republican in CD-2, by slightly higher margins than in 2020. But, in looking back at 2021’s gubernatorial results, Gloucester County supported Republican Jack Ciatarelli by a +10% margin after supporting Democrat Phil Murphy by a +13% margin in 2017. Gloucester also supported Senator Cory Booker by a slimmer 3% margin in 2020.

Essex County, New York moved away from supporting incumbent Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik after supporting her by +3% in 2020 and supported Democrat Matt Castelli by a +1.5% margin this cycle. However, Essex County supported Republican Joe Pinion over Majority Leader Chuck Schumer by a 1% margin, after supporting Schumer by a +13% margin in 2016. In addition, Essex moved from supporting the 2018 Republican nominee for governor by a +2% to supporting Republican Lee Zeldin this year by +10%.

Prior to redistricting, Saratoga County, New York split between CD-20 and CD-21, which supported a Democrat and Republican for Congress, respectively, by double digit margins in 2020. After redistricting, Saratoga County now falls entirely into CD-20 and supported Republican Liz Joy by a +5% margin over Democrat Paul Tonko.  In 2016, Saratoga County supported Chuck Schumer by a +21% margin, but this time around supported Republican Joe Pinion by a +2% margin. One potential caveat here is that Saratoga moved from supporting the Republican gubernatorial nominee by +16% in 2018 to +8% in 2022.

Below is a snapshot of the three Biden pivot counties that offered elevated levels of support for Democrats.

County 2020 Biden Margin 2020 House Margin 2022 House Margin House Margin ∆
Pueblo County, CO +1.7% D +0.2% D +6% D +6%
Erie County, PA +1% D +2% D +7% D +5%
Northampton County, PA +0.7% R +0.3% D +3% D +3%


County 2020 Biden Margin 2016 Senate Margin 2022 Senate Margin Senate Margin ∆
Erie County, PA +1% Toomey +3% Fetterman +9% D +12%
Northampton County, PA +0.7% Toomey +6% Fetterman +5% D +11%
Pueblo County, CO +1.7% Bennet +8% Bennet +9% D +1%


Reaching conclusions on what results mean for partywide success as compared to what may be attributable to incumbency or individual candidate quality wades into subjectivity. That said, there are signs that Republicans made headway in these medium-education, predominantly white counties. One looming challenge for Republican campaigns, however, is to make inroads with working class voters of color. Voters of color continue to support Democrats at equally high levels regardless of whether they hold a college degree, according to exit polls.[13] Moving forward, if the Republican Party is to cement itself as the party of the working-class, expanding this coalition to include working class voters of color will be critical to longer-term electoral success.










[8] Republicans Win: U.S. House Election Results 2022 – The New York Times (

[9] As of November 28th, only 79% of the votes were in for Blaine County, MT.

[10] Gloucester County, NJ splits between NJ-1 and NJ-2. These two respective districts maintained nearly identical maps after redistricting.

[11] Saratoga County, NY split between NY-20 and NY-21 before redistricting, but now falls entirely into NY-20.

[12] There was no Democrat on the congressional ballot this year. Total votes cast in Ziebach County in this race fell from 828 in 2020 to 617 in 2022.



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