Last December, Jennifer Duffy, an election analyst at the Cook Political Report, came up with a particularly tantalizing set of data points, the kind that demand further exploration.
In 1988, the Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis, carried 26 percent of the nation’s counties, 819 of 3144, on his way to losing the Electoral College 426-111 and the popular vote by seven percentage points. In 2012, President Obama won fewer counties, 690, but he won the popular vote by four points and the Electoral College in a landslide, 332-206.
The forces behind this shift illuminate the internal realignments taking place within the two major political parties. But first let’s look at how a candidate could carry 129 fewer counties but come out way ahead on Election Day.