McLean County is one of only 77 counties in the United States to flip the presidential party preference from four years ago. McLean County went for Joe Biden and last cycle it went for President Trump.
Illinois State University political scientist Lane Crothers said the short list of counties that flipped is not a surprise because it was a base election and the nation as a whole has been trending toward more politically divided geography.
“In McLean County’s case, it is probably more surprising that it did flip than it didn’t,” said Crothers. “Previous to that, it had voted for a Democratic president once in its history since the Republican party was invented.”
In 2008, the county voted for Barack Obama, but McLean didn’t vote for Democrat Adlai Ewing Stevenson, a Bloomington native, who ran unsuccessfully two times for president against Dwight Eisenhower.
“Counties being party-loyal is not a particularly new phenomenon in our politics,” said Crothers.
City of Bloomington voters were key to flipping McLean County's presidential preference this year from red to blue compared with four years ago. Crothers questioned whether that is significant for the Democrats who will redraw legislative districts next year.
“I think politicians are relatively conservative in the sense that they like to do things they know work,” said Crothers. “They resist taking risks that they don’t expect substantial payoffs.”
The Bloomington-Normal metro area and the rest of the county are split among three Statehouse seats. If Democrats did pay attention to the Twin Cities, they might be able to draw a map that had a blue leaning district centered on Bloomington.
“Because the Democratic party is so centralized in and around the Chicago area, in my general sense, the party doesn’t think a lot about maximizing downstate representation because they have a substantial majority in the Statehouse anyway,” said Crothers.
Ten years ago, Democrats controlled the redistricting process and they split up McLean County and Bloomington-Normal into several different House districts that tilt Republican.
Crothers said the 2010 map emphasized getting the maximum number of Democrats they thought they could get into the state House and Senate.
“Therefore, that meant you had to accept there were going to be downstate districts, which were essentially going to become uncompetitive and lean Republican,” said Crothers.
Crothers noted McLean County also has seen demographic changes over the last two decadess that contributed to the blue shift in Bloomington-Normal.
“We happen to live in an extremely highly educated district, although we are disproportionately white, we have an increasingly information-based economy--these types of people have been bending Democratic over time,” said Crothers.
He said 2020 has been a polarizing time that has led to a mass mobilization on both sides of the political aisle..
“If it is just McLean County races than the demographics that are going on in this community, particularly the education and economic shifts that are going on, seem to be paralleling those on the nationwide trend having increasingly drawn people to the Democratic party,” said Crothers.
“If we have learned anything about the 2020 election, it is that some of the very thin or thoughtless assumptions about demographics in a racial or ethnic dynamic,simply don’t hold up. But shifting the nature of the economy and the education base of the community does. In McLean County, those trends are probably heading more towards the Democrat area, but again it is still a Republican area.”
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