The result of the presidential election in Hamilton County was never in doubt earlier this month, but the unofficial precinct count offers a snapshot of why the country did not re-elect — pending unforeseen changes — President Donald Trump.
The Republican president in 2020 received 13,000-plus more votes in the county than he did in 2016, but Democrat Joe Biden picked up 20,000-plus more votes this year than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
The count shows Trump won 53.64% of the vote this year, .91% less than he did here four years ago. But Biden's 43.94% was 5.61% more than the president's opponent in 2016.
In county precincts with totals of more than 100 votes, Trump increased his vote percentage in a number of historically minority precincts, lending credence to his campaign's outreach to those communities.
The Hamilton County Election Commission doesn't offer a breakdown of voters by race, but AP Votecast indicates Trump won 4% more of the Black vote across the country than he did in 2016 and 3% more of the Hispanic vote.
That could be a positive development for Republicans in 2024, depending on the candidate.
But while the president won 2% more of the vote of white women across the country than he did in 2016, he lost 8% more white men than he did in 2016, according to Votecast.
Several of Hamilton County's largely white precincts offer evidence that was the case here.
East Brainerd's Westview 3, for instance, decreased its percentage for Trump from 67.07% to 62.97. Hixson 2 fell from 64.94% to 60.31%, Harrison 5 dropped from 76.04% to 72.12% and Northwoods 2 went from 65.25% to 60.42%.
Meanwhile, the percentage for the Democratic candidate rose by greater percentages in similar precincts.
Apison 1, for example, gave Trump more than 75% of its vote (of nearly 2,700 cast), but Biden picked up 22.79%, nearly 8 percentage points higher than Clinton got. Across the Tennessee River in Falling Water, voters gave the president more than 70% of the vote (of about 1,000 cast), but Biden got more than 8% above what Clinton did.
To be sure, several pockets of strong voters for Republicans and Democrats remained so. In the north end of the county, largely white Flat Top Mountain and Birchwood increased their percentages for Trump to 82.13% and 81.49%, respectively, while largely Black Bonny Oaks and Eastdale expanded their margins from Clinton to Biden to 82.11% and 88.25%, respectively.
In precincts where more than 100 people voted for either Trump or Biden, Bakewell voted most heavily for Trump with 85.39% of the vote, while Avondale voted with the greatest percentage for Biden with 92.87%.
The vote also paints a picture of how the parties have changed over 20 years, with the Republican Party no longer being seen as the home of the rich and powerful.
In 2000, the year of the Bush-Gore nail-biter, the wealthy enclave of Lookout Mountain gave 78.68% of its votes to the Republican Bush. By 2020, the same precinct had fallen to 60.75% for Trump. Well-heeled Signal Mountain's two precincts gave Bush 68.15% and 71.09% in 2000. Twenty years later, they gave Trump 52.54% and 51.15%.
Analysts of the 2020 election undoubtedly will attribute some of the results to the cult of personality surrounding the president. His strongest supporters say his blunt, blustery, take-no-prisoners style is exactly what is needed for the country, while those who oppose him say those characteristics turn them off.
Many who voted for Trump as the better of two bad choices four years ago came to revere him and became his most vocal backers.
Just the opposite was true for his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was elected in a similar cult-of-personality vote in 2008 due to his race and promises of hope and change but had soured on many of his voters by 2012.
However, where Trump likely has lost re-election with 8 million more votes than he netted did in 2016, Obama won re-election in 2012 with about 4 million fewer votes (and 33 fewer electoral votes) than he did in 2008.
In Tennessee this year, the president earned 60.7% of the vote, almost exactly the 60.72% he had in 2016. However, where Clinton garnered only 34.7%, Biden got 37.4% of the vote. Trump won the same 92 of 95 counties he captured in 2016, losing only Davidson (Nashville), Shelby (Memphis) and tiny Haywood County.
The Volunteer State and Hamilton County are not going to change their political stripes in the next four years, but, that won't stop them from being able to reflect a national voting trend as they did this year in what turned out to be a critical movement of white men.