How Appalachian Shale delivered the presidency to Trump

Blog Post
Political pundits across the country have begun the autopsy of the historic 2016 presidential election. While creative minds will undoubtedly conjure complex explanations for last night’s result, the answer may be quite simple: a dramatic shift in voting within the Appalachian Basin1 played an unquestionably significant role in Donald Trump’s victory.
At the time of the 2008 presidential election, residents of the Appalachian Basin were on the cusp of realizing a dramatic boom in energy exploration. By 2016, the energy industry had become the key driver of economic growth in the region. Having already brought tens of billions of dollars to the local economy, the energy industry is promising to bring many billions more in future revenue to the region. If the government doesn’t interfere, that is.
Unsurprisingly, the candidates for the 2016 presidential election found themselves at odds over what role the government should play in regulating and restricting the energy industry in the Appalachian Basin. During a September speech in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump promised to “lift the restrictions on American energy and allow the wealth to flow into our communities.” Conversely, Secretary Hillary Clinton, during the March 6, 2016, Democratic presidential primary debate, promised to set forth such burdensome conditions and regulations on the energy industry that, “by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
And so voters in the Appalachian Basin, many of whom had suffered through decades of economic hardship, were left to decide between the candidate who wished to unleash the bounty lying beneath their feet, or the candidate who wished to regulate it into oblivion. Here is a closer look at what those voters decided, and how it compares to their decisions during the election of 2008.


  • In 2008, President Barack Obama won the Pennsylvania Appalachian Basin counties by a margin of 29,574 votes.
  • In 2016, Trump won the Pennsylvania Appalachian Basin counties by a margin of 76,323 votes, a swing of 105,897 votes from 2008.
  • With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the margin of victory for Trump in Pennsylvania currently stands at 68,012.
  • Absent the swing of 105,897 votes to Trump in the Pennsylvania Appalachian Basin, Clinton would have won the state and the election would yet to be decided.


  • In 2008, Obama won the Ohio Appalachian Basin counties by a margin of 39,955 votes.
  • In 2016, Trump won the Ohio Appalachian Basin counties by a margin of 112,546 votes, a swing of 152,501 votes from 2008.
  • Despite consisting largely of sparsely populated areas, the vote swing in Ohio Appalachian Basin counties accounted for approximately 1/3 of Trump’s margin of victory in Ohio. 
  • Voters in traditionally blue city of Youngstown rejected an amendment (for the sixth time) to ban fracking in the city by a margin of 55.45 percent to 44.55 percent. Voters in that county alone shifted from a 33,854 vote advantage for Obama in 2008 to a mere 3,380 vote advantage for Clinton in 2016.

West Virginia

  • In 2008, Obama was able to carry two of the Appalachian Basin counties in West Virginia.
  • In 2016, Clinton carried none of those counties.
  • Between 2008 and 2016, the Republican margin of victory in the West Virginia Appalachian Basin increased from 28,830 to 83,600.
  • In 1992 and 1996, former President Bill Clinton won the state of West Virginia by more than 90,000 votes, prior to Democrats’ attacks on the state’s variety of energy resources.
Illustrations of the presidential election results from 2008 to 2016 in the Appalachian Basin offer an even starker picture of the shift in voting over that period:


Polling throughout the campaign in all three states found the economy to be the top priority among voters, outdistancing any secondary issues by a wide margin. It’s no surprise then that those states would reject the candidate who threatened to shut down one of their greatest economic drivers going forward in favor of the candidate who promised to get out of the way. The numbers do not lie – Appalachian Shale delivered the Presidency to Trump.

Consisting of (1) the following counties in Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland, (2) the following counties in Ohio: Athens, Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Monroe, Noble, Stark, Tuscarawas, and Washington, and (3) the following counties in West Virginia: Brooke, Doddridge, Hancock, Harrison, Marion, Marshall, Monogalia, Ohio, Pleasants, Preston, Ritchie, Tyler, Wetzel, and Wood.

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