A Big Blue Dot in a Sea of Red. But Jefferson County’s Presidential Vote Tally Masks Deep Community Divisions

(As the nation inaugurates a new president this month, BirminghamWatch will look at what divides us and connects us close to home. This is the first of the stories.)    

Hillary Clinton was the clear winner in Jefferson County on election-day, besting Donald Trump in the race for president by more than 7 percentage points.

But that result doesn’t mean the county escaped the polarization of the 2016 presidential election nationwide or the potential for conflict over public policy in the county and the region.

Clinton won the county with 51.07 percent of the vote, or 156,873 votes, according to certified vote results from the Alabama Secretary of State. Trump took 43.87 percent of the vote, or 137,768 votes. Other candidates and write-in votes accounted for 12,550 votes, slightly more than 4 percent of the ballots cast in the county.

Clinton’s numbers rivaled President Barack Obama’s vote totals four years ago, when he won Jefferson County with 52.5 percent support, taking 159,876 votes. Trump’s votes in Jefferson County this year fell short of the 141,683 Republican Mitt Romney rallied in 2012. More voters in 2016 opted for neither major party candidate, compared to 2012.

Neighborhood Divides 

The starkest divides emerge at the neighborhood level. In 59 of the county’s 171 precincts, 90 percent or more of the vote went to Clinton (see precincts). In 11 precincts, 90 percent or more of the vote went to Trump (see precincts).

Clinton took areas in Birmingham and central parts of the county, with Trump gaining strength the farther precincts were from the core.

In seven precincts, Clinton received more than 99 percent of the votes.  Those included Fairfield Fire Station, Hudson Middle School, North Birmingham Public Library, Lively Hope Baptist Church, Dunbar-Abrams school, Bryant Chapel AME Church – and New Bethel Baptist Church where there was one vote cast for Trump.

Trump carried no precincts by that margin. His strongest precinct was Corner School, where he won almost 94 percent of the vote.

The clash sometimes can be seen in places geographically close, such as the Sylvan Springs area. Voters at the First United Methodist Church of Sylvan Springs favored Trump by 94.29 percent, and voters at the First Baptist Church Sylvan Springs, 2.9 miles away, favored Clinton by 94.94 percent.

Of Mixed Minds 

Still, there are areas in Jefferson County that show considerable political diversity. In 11 of Jefferson County’s precincts, voters were more evenly split, with votes for both candidates falling between 40 percent and 60 percent. Those included precincts in Adamsville, Pleasant Grove, Bessemer, Leeds, Minor, Hoover and Homewood (see precincts).

And in more centrally located areas that are traditional Republican strongholds, the Republicans lost ground in the presidential race this year. In many Mountain Brook precincts, the vote tallies for the 2016 Republican candidate dropped to the high 60 percent range, from the low 80 percent range in 2012.

Democrats did not get a corresponding bump, though. The Democrats did increase their share in the presidential race, but by 8 percentage points to 10 percentage points. Democrats averaged about 25 percent of the vote in Mountain Brook precincts. The rest of the lost Republican voters either cast their ballots for third party or write-in candidates, or they did not vote at all in the presidential race.

Voters at Prince of Peace Catholic Church

Trump’s controversial campaign cut into Republican votes in other Jefferson County areas where the party traditional is strong. At Liberty Park Baptist Church, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the vote was 82.27 percent in 2012, but 70.93 percent this year. At Hoover’s Hunter Street Baptist Church, where some people waited in line for up to three hours to vote, Republicans dropped from a 73.6 percent share in the presidential race of 2012 to a 62.11 percent share this year. At Homewood Exceptional Foundation, the Democratic presidential candidates in 2016 and 2012 got almost exactly the same share of the vote, just shy of 49 percent. But the Republicans dropped from 49.88 percent in 2012 to 40.15 percent this year. Votes for third party candidates and write-ins accounted for more than 10 percent of the vote for president at that precinct this year.

In fact, votes for both Clinton and Trump were lower in Jefferson County this year than the votes for the parties’ standard bearers in 2012. Democrats got 3,492 fewer votes this year than in the 2012 presidential race and Republicans dropped by 7,185.

“Other” was the big winner. More than 12,500 Jefferson County voters cast their ballots for third party candidates or wrote in their own choice for president this year. That’s almost 10,000 more voters than rejected both major party candidates in 2012.

And in the MSA 

Jefferson County’s tenuous position as a blue outpost in Alabama is brought home by the election results in surrounding counties in the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area.  Huge margins for Trump in other counties – close to three-quarters of the vote or more – earned the MSA the top spot among large metro areas with the biggest vote shares for Trump, according to an analysis published by City Lab. Overall for the seven-county metro area, Trump took 58.6 percent of the vote.

In Blount County, Trump got more than 89 percent of the vote. In St. Clair, Walker and Chilton counties, he topped 82 percent of the vote. In Bibb County, more than 76 percent of voters cast their ballots for him, and in Shelby County the number was more than 72 percent.

Clinton’s win in Jefferson County and her particular strength in the central sections of the county cast the area in sharp contrast with the areas that surround it.