Thursday, November 6, 2008

Analyzing the rural vote: Obama's strategy of "showing up" worked in some places

Given so much pre-election coverage of the rural vote, I can't say I'm really surprised to see the results of the 2008 Presidential election parsed every which way, including along the rural-urban axis. An NYT story the day after the election indicated that "a bare majority" of rural voters went for McCain, "while Mr. Obama built on recent Democratic Party gains n the once reliably Republican suburbs." The "After the Vote" special section in today's New York Times features a large county-level map of the country, color-coded to show whether the county voted more Democratic or more Republican in this election than in 2004. The headline is "For Most of the Country, a Blue Shift." And, indeed, the map is very blue. The reddest states by this measure are clustered in the mid-South: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, big chunks of southern Louisiana and northern Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and the Appalachian triangle that straddles Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. So, it seems, many in largely rural states and in largely rural regions of other states -- all mostly in the South -- leaned red while most of the rest of the nation was leaning blue.

But that is not the entire "rural" story on the election, of course. Four of the seven blurbs below this map explicitly mention rural places or rural-urban difference. Two others are implicitly about the rural vote because they are about states that are essentially rural by most any measure. Here are parts of blurbs that explicitly mention rurality (emphasis mine):
  • "Big [Texas] cities moved in large numbers to Mr. Obama, providing a sharp contrast here between urban and rural voters."
  • "Much of [Indiana] shifted away from Republicans, but the move was most noticeable in rural counties that had kept the state reliably red in previous elections."
  • "Rural white counties from Kentucky to Texas took a different tack from the rest of the country, moving strongly toward Mr. McCain."
  • "Black voters flooded to the polls in rural counties from Virginia to Mississipi." Turnout in Alabama counties in which blacks are a majority rose by 15%.
Two other blurbs are about the mountain West and high plains. States such as Utah and Idaho, previously solidly Republican, became more purple, while the Obama campaigns efforts in places like Montana and North Dakota paid off to a limited degree. The final blurb mentions the Rio Grande Valley, which has both rural and urban segments. There, Obama gained votes from Hispanics, who had favored Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries.

Of course, this map in today's paper is "all relative"--that is, to the vote in the last election. The county-level map showing which counties Obama carried and which ones McCain carried makes the country look very red. That map is here (be sure to select "county leaders" in upper left hand corner to get the county-level data). There's been a lot complaining about the disproportionate power of rural voters because of the electoral college system (which obviously matters more in close elections), but looking at this map is a reminder that, in terms of sheer land area, the GOP dominates. The political power wielded by and concentrated in urban populations is considerable indeed--and readily apparent from looking at this very red map and knowing that blue nevertheless won the election.

Don't miss more great analysis over at the Daily Yonder, where the big headline is "Obama Closes Gap in Rural Vote, Wins Bigger in Cities."

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