How does opportunity affect voting outcomes?

by Kimberly DeLande   •  

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled Less Opportunity, More Support, which used our Opportunity Index to show where each of our potential presidential candidates rank in relation to counties’ economic mobility and opportunity.

The findings show that both parties’ frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump “…have amassed their largest share of support in counties with lower scores on the Opportunity Index.” Bernie Sanders’s stronghold is in counties that offer more opportunity, Ted Cruz fares better with both high- and low-income evangelicals, while John Kasich’s success lies within the Republican establishment whose voters tend to live in areas with higher income and education levels.

Trump and Clinton

Trump and Clinton won every county in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. All three of these states are in the bottom ten rankings of the Opportunity Index, with these states ranking 46, 47 and 49, respectively.

It’s worth noting that Mississippi placed last in three Opportunity Index indicators in 2015. It had the lowest median household income, the highest poverty rates, and it ranked bottom for overall high-speed Internet access. Mississippi is the fourth most improved state in the Index; from 2011 to 2015, it improved its rank from 50 to 49.

However, its high youth disconnection rate and poverty rate have made it a state that is in most want for more opportunity.


Sanders did well in states with higher opportunity, namely Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. These states rank 1, 5 and 8 for opportunity, respectively, and have stayed in the top ten rankings for five consecutive years. Iowa has the high on-time high school graduation rate in the country, at 89.6%, compared to the national average of 81%. New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate at 8.7%, compared to the national average of 15.8%. Vermont has both the lowest violent crime rate and the highest rate of group membership.

All three of these states have low youth disconnection rates, higher than average median household incomes and percentages of adults with associate’s degrees or higher.


Kasich received the most votes from counties with high incomes and education levels. For example, Kasich won Alexandria City County, Virginia, which has a median household income of $80,221, compared to the national average of $48,906. In Alexandria, 65.8% of adults have an associate’s degree or higher. This is similar to Arlington County, Virginia, another county Kasich won, where 75.4% of adults have an associate’s degree or higher. Arlington is even wealthier than Alexandria; the median household income in Arlington is $96,603.

What does this say about the American Dream?

Access to opportunity is a defining issue for our nation. Providing the conditions young people need to be successful is the most powerful way to increase economic mobility, close the opportunity gap, and create a more vibrant and competitive nation. We will not see these conditions improve without acceleration by presidential leadership. Here are just a few key priorities:

  • Youth Disconnection: When youth do well, we all do well. It’s no coincidence that the states with the highest rates of youth disconnection have the lowest opportunity scores. Youth disconnection is one of the three indicators (including poverty rate and postsecondary education rate) that correlates most strongly with 2015 state Opportunity Scores. A surefire way to combat youth disconnection rates is to incentivize employers to hire and train youth, provide them a clear cut career path by updating career and technical education, and advance juvenile criminal justice reform to give youth a second chance to join the workforce.
  • Expand Access to Education: In Wall Street Journal’s article, many wealthy counties were also highly educated. To ensure that youth are given quality education at the start of their learning lives, we must expand access to high-quality childhood education programs for low- and moderate-income families, improve affordability, quality and financial aid access in post-secondary education and support college savings plans for low-income children.

These points and more are outlined in our list of policy priorities: Restoring the American Dream: A Presidential Plan to Expand Opportunity. We believe 2016 presidential candidates must make their plans clear to restore access to the American Dream. Download and read our vision of how we can become a true opportunity nation.

Kimberly DeLande Kimberly DeLande was Opportunity Nation’s Communications and Marketing Specialist from June 2015 - January 2017. She played a critical role in crafting and implementing the campaign’s message to Opportunity Nation’s thought leader and coalition-based network through social media, graphic design and the website.

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