The Community Types
The American Communities Project is a political science/data journalism effort that uses demographics to break the nation's 3,100 counties into the following 15 community types:
16.7 million people
Stretched in a belt that runs from Virginia down through Texas, these 371 counties are home to large African American populations – they are more than 40% African American. The counties have relatively small Hispanic populations – only about 5%. With a median household income of just $35,561, the African American South is the least wealthy of the 15 county types in the American Communities Project. The presidential vote in these counties can be close because of their divided racial composition, but Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. president, won them by five percentage points in 2012.
There are 161 counties in this group set on the Great Plains, only about 3,500 people per county on average. About 92% of the people in the Aging Farmlands live in a rural area, according to the US Census. These counties are also the oldest on average in the ACP, with more than 26% over the age of 62, and the least diverse racial and ethnically. The Farmlands are 96% white and about 3% Hispanic. As may be expected, these counties are strongly Republican. In the last four presidential elections they have not given less than 62% of their vote to GOP candidate. Republican Mitt Romney captured 68% of the vote from the Aging Farmlands in 2012.
73.6 million people
These 46 counties hold the nation’s largest cities, from New York to Nashville, and they are densely packed – 99% of the population lives in urban places as defined by the Census. Diversity is the key word. Only 60% of the population is white, 28% are Hispanic, 17% are African American and 9% are Asian. The median household income is about $53,000 here, often with large pockets of poverty in as well as pockets of wealth. The Big Cities are the most populous county type in the ACP and also the most Democratic. In 2012, President Barack Obama captured 65% of the votes from these counties and won them by some 31 percentage points.
17.9 million people
These 154 counties are scattered around the country and are generally located near large colleges and universities. Filled with college students, about 8% of the population sits between the ages of 18 and 21 – far higher than any other type. These counties also hold a large number of college graduates, 34% of their population has at least a bachelor’s degree, and they are less diverse than the nation as a whole, about 85% white, 7% black and 7% Hispanic. President Barack Obama won the vote coming out these counties in 2012 by bout four points, 51% to 47%.
12.5 million people
Based heavily in the south, the key distinguishing characteristic for these 373 counties is the high number of religious adherents tied to evangelical churches like the Southern Baptist Convention. But the Evangelical Hubs have a few other key elements driving their community culture – they are less diverse (85% white), with lower incomes (a median of about $39,000) and lower education levels (about 15% of the population have a bachelors degree or more). They are also one of the most politically conservative types in the American Communities Project. Mitt Romney won 69% of the vote from these places.
32 million people
These 222 counties generally lie on the fringe of major metro areas, in the space between suburban and rural America – with some more densely settled areas and some area more sparse. The Exurbs are populous, with 32 million people, and relatively wealthy, with a median household income of about $63,000. Though there is sprawl here, the counties’ rural attributes and their less-diverse citizenry lead the Exurbs to be pretty comfortably Republican in their presidential vote. Mitt Romney won these counties by some 17 percentage points in 2012.
15.3 million people
Fairly rural and scattered around the country, these 364 counties are full of retirees and those nearing retirement age. Graying America is middle-income, about $44,000 annually for the median household, and it’s less diverse than the nation as a whole. But, of course, a big defining factor is age. Almost a quarter of everyone in these counties, 24%, is 62 years of age or older and only 21% of the population is under 18. The combined age factor and rural locales make Graying America solidly conservative politically, Mitt Romney captured 56% of its vote in 2012.
11.5 million people
Based primarily in the southwest, these 161 counties are not necessarily majority Hispanic, but they are places where self-identified Hispanics make up a large part of the population, 56% on average. While the counties are heavily rural, there are large urban areas in Texas and Florida that also fall within the group. They are younger than average, with 30% of the population under 18, with a median annual income of about $42,000. The presidential vote in these places has grown increasingly divided as more of the young Hispanic population reaches voting age. Republican nominee Mitt Romney won these counties by about three percentage points in 2012.
3 million people
Based around Utah and the Mountain West, these 41 counties are the centers of the nation’s Mormon population. The Enclaves are one of the youngest types in the ACP, with 31% of the population under the age of 18. They are also one of the least diverse types, with a population that is 90% white and 1% African American – 11% of the population identifies as Hispanic (Hispanics can be of any race). The LDS Enclaves are reliably Republican, but they were especially strong for Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney, the first major party Mormon presidential candidate, in 2012. Romney won 74% of the Enclaves’ vote.
16.3 million people
Located around the major cities of the Northeast and the Midwest, these 77 counties have not changed as quickly as the semi-urban paces around them. They have been slower to urbanize and at 87% white, they are slightly less diverse than the Urban Suburbs and the Exurbs. They are also less wealthy, with a median household income of about $50,000, and they feature lower education levels – about 23% of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree. The presidential vote them is generally close. The Middle Suburbs vote went to Barack Obama in 2008, but in 2012 Republican Mitt took back for the GOP when he won them by two percentage points, 50% – 48%.
9.7 million people
Marked by the presence of troops and bases, these 89 counties have a distinct demographic look and feel. Even though many located in rural locales, their military ties make them relatively young, only 14% of the population is 62 year of age or older. And they feature a larger African American population than average, 16%. They are also fairly well-educated, a quarter of the people in the Military Posts have a college degree. Their connections to national defense give them solid conservative leanings. Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama in the Military Posts in 2012 56% to 42%.
Native American Lands
Dotted across the west, these 42 counties are marked by large Native American populations – more than half the people who live in these counties overall are indigenous Americans. The counties are heavily rural with low college education rates, only 14% have a college degree, and with the lowest “white only” population of any ACP type, about 39%. They are not wealthy places, with a median household income of about $40,000 and they are pretty closely split politically. President Barack Obama won these counties in 2008 and 2012, but only by about six percentage points and four percentage points respectively.
Rural Middle America
21.5 million people
A large collection of counties, some 599, that runs across the northern half of the country starting up in Maine through the Great Lakes and across to Montana and Washington state. The counties are slightly wealthier than average (median income of $47,000) with a less diverse population (94% white) that is less spread into less urban locales – 50% of the population lives in places the Census labels as rural.. Though they tend to be made up of small towns, these places do not generally rely heavily agriculture. In presidential politics they lean strongly rightward. Republican nominee Mitt Romney won these counties by about 12 percentage points in 2012.
66.2 million people
These 106 counties hold the near-in suburbs of most major cities and they have come to take on many of those big city characteristics. They are densely populated, 95% of the people in Urban Suburbs live in places the Census labels as urban, and diverse. The population of these counties is about 70% white, 14% African American and 17% Hispanic. The Urban Suburbs are also the wealthiest of all the types in the ACP with an annual median household income of about $66,500. President Barack Obama won these counties by more than 16 percentage points in 2012.
Working Class Country
8.5 million people
Rural, 94% white and lower income ($38,300 median income), many of these 337 counties are based in the region commonly referred to as Appalachia, but their footprint extends beyond there into Upper Midwest, the South and even the Northwest states. They are among the least diverse places in the United States, only 2.5% African American and 4% Hispanic. They are also very reliably Republican in presidential races. Since 2000, no Republican candidate for president has gotten less than 57% of the vote from Working Class Country counties.