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Reconsidering Bellwether Locations in U.S. Presidential Elections | Andrew Reeves

Reconsidering Bellwether Locations in U.S. Presidential Elections

Abstract

We examine the notion of a “bellwether” location in the electoral political context. Bellwethers are thought to have predictive power because they supposedly signal how the entire electorate will move on Election Day. We consider how the number of bellwether counties— defined in several ways—has fluctuated since the 1930s. We also explore the extent to which bellwethers successfully predict future elections. With the proliferation of geographic polarization, few counties can successively and successfully pick the winner of presidential elections. Other bellwether measures fare slightly better or worse, but like Tufte and Sun (1975) found nearly half a century ago, bellwethers today continue to be poor predictors of future performance.