Lee Schafer
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Political analysts might be still rehashing the 2020 presidential election a year from now, but two things were obvious even before former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner the Saturday after Election Day.

What was already a very divided country remains one.

And one of the biggest dividing lines is economic.

The economic health of the country has long been a factor in presidential elections, yet apparently not always in ways one might expect.

This year the places that have been doing the best by traditional measures of prosperity saw voters generally vote for change by supporting Biden.

“Not only did places with brighter economic prospects swing more toward Biden, but places with a stronger economy during the past four years did, too,” wrote Jed Kolko, economist at Indeed Inc.

Nothing determined how people voted in the presidential election so much as “proximity to opportunity,” as a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight put it. She observed that the farther one lived from an economically vibrant metro area, with a lot of economic diversity and plenty of high-paying jobs, the more inclined voters were to re-elect President Donald Trump.

To me, that’s the most memorable line of the election coverage. It reminds us that opportunities are not spread fairly around the country. Where you grew up still matters a lot.

And that should force us to give more careful thought to what’s meant by opportunity. Because what looks like a great place of opportunity may not be much of a practical one.

By this kind of thinking, it would be a good idea to pick up and move to the Silicon Valley region of Northern California, where the median household income has shot past $160,000. But that income doesn’t seem like it could be nearly enough in a community where the median value of an owner-occupied house is $1.6 million.

A big divergence in voter preferences based on very broad measures of economic vitality occurred all over the country, in states that went for the president on Election Day as well as his challenger. It was certainly true in Minnesota, as the 74 counties carried by Trump accounted for only about 30% of Minnesota GDP, as of 2018 data.

In just two Minnesota counties did the vote for Biden climb past 70%, and one of those was the state’s largest county, Hennepin. This county encompasses the city of Minneapolis as well as many of the most affluent suburbs of the Twin Cities.

It’s home to about 22% of Minnesotans, but it accounts for more than 37% of state GDP.

Government agencies now describe the greater Twin Cities as spreading into more than a dozen counties including over the river into western Wisconsin. The core counties, including Hennepin, of what was long called the “seven-county metro” together account for more than two-thirds of state GDP.

The two counties outside of the Twin Cities that contributed the most to state GDP were St. Louis in northeastern Minnesota and Olmsted, home to Rochester and the Mayo Clinic. Biden carried both.

There are, of course, places with better-than-average incomes where most voters did not pick Biden. Trump won a majority of the votes in suburban Scott and Carver counties south and west of Minneapolis, where median household income, again according to census estimates, exceeds $100,000.

Of the Minnesota counties where Trump took more than 70% of the vote, the largest of them is Morrison County, north of St. Cloud in central Minnesota. It also had the highest percentage of Trump vote, about 76%.

The numbers show the median household income in Morrison County of about $55,000, far less than the state as a whole.

Farther north is Itasca County, where the median household income is a bit less, about $53,000. That’s roughly half of what it is in the most affluent counties of the greater Twin Cities.

Itasca County holds part of Minnesota’s Iron Range and is home to an iron mining project that has turned into something of a symbol of that industry’s continuing troubles. However, it’s unfair to put any blame on the locals for a mine and processing project that after 17 years still hasn’t gone into production.

Trump handily won in Itasca County with about 57% of the vote. Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, running for re-election in the Eighth Congressional District with the campaign theme of “fighting for our way of life,” did even better at the polls.

You would have to conclude that a majority of the voters of Itasca County are satisfied enough with their opportunity for a good life as it is.

lee.schafer@startribune.com • 612-673-4302