Monday, November 14, 2016

The rural vote in the 2016 US Presidential election

Diamond Springs (El Dorado Co.), California, exurban Sacramento Nov. 2016
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt
After a seven-week hiatus from the blog, I'm depressed to be returning with this topic:  How rural America veered even more sharply Republican in 2016 than in recent past presidential elections.  Indeed, to be more blunt, I'm writing about how much of rural "white" America helped make Donald Trump president-elect.  It's been nearly a week since the election, and here's what the pundits and analysts are telling us about the rural vote.

Let me start with the Daily Yonder, which by Thursday had posted this.  The take away from Bill Bishop and Tim Marema's piece:
Donald Trump won the presidency with a surge of votes from rural counties, small towns, and medium sized cities. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s vote outside the nation’s largest metropolitan areas dropped precipitously from Democratic returns in 2012.
The data graphs accompanying the story indicate that Obama got 37.7% of rural voters in 2012, while Clinton got just 29.4% in 2016.  As for micropolitan areas (small cities), Obama got 40.5% to Hillary's 33%.
Democrats saw big declines in their percentage of the vote outside the cities. (See chart.) Republican Trump, meanwhile, had a nearly 7.3 million vote deficit in metropolitan areas almost erased by totals in rural counties and counties with towns under 50,000 people.
The Yonder story quotes Prof. James Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland:
From a geographic standpoint, the Trump-Clinton contest was more polarizing than Romney-Obama, with bigger gaps separating the most urban from the most rural locations.  
Interestingly, some of the earliest analysis of the rural vote and its import for the 2016 presidential race came out of Australia.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Catherine Hanrahan focused on three Rust Belt states where Trump garnered relatively narrow victories:  Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Hillary Clinton's losses there--by a total of just about 110,000 votes--were fatal to her bid for the presidency.  The story was similar in all three states.  Clinton won the big cities, and Trump carried small cities and rural areas.  Here's what Hanrahan wrote about Pennsylvania, which mirrors what she wrote about the other states; only the numbers were different.
Once again, Mrs Clinton easily outpolled Mr Trump in the cities, by more than 215,000 votes. 
But in the regional towns and cities away from the metropolitan areas, Mr Trump polled around 270,000 more votes than his opponent, enough to secure victory. 
The extra 3,000 votes he polled from country voters only extended his lead in the State.
One widely-read story about the "why" of all this is the Jeff Guo (Washington Post) interview with University of Wisconsin political scientist, Kathy Cramer, who earlier this year published The Politics of Resentment:  Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.  Cramer explains that rural voters are alienated from urban populations.  A particular aspect of this resentment is against highly educated elites, perceived by rural voters as know-it-alls who want to dictate to rural folks how to live.  Here are some of the key observations:  
[Cramer] shows how politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.
Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects. For instance, she says, most rural Wisconsinites supported the tea party's quest to shrink government not out of any belief in the virtues of small government but because they did not trust the government to help “people like them.”
She continues:
Listening in on these conversations, it is hard to conclude that the people I studied believe what they do because they have been hoodwinked. Their views are rooted in identities and values, as well as in economic perceptions; and these things are all intertwined.
The New York Times Upshot also focused on the Midwest, noting that counties that swing most dramatically toward Donald Trump--by 15 points or more between 2012 and 2016--were in that region.  Emily Badger, Quoctrung Bui, and Adam Pearce write:
That abrupt shift was probably driven by numerous factors that are hard to untangle: weak economic prospects; Mrs. Clinton’s lack of attention to those places on the campaign trail; Mr. Trump’s xenophobic message to voters anxious about change.
But the widening political divergence between cities and small-town America also reflects a growing alienation between the two groups, and a sense — perhaps accurate — that their fates are not connected.
As the authors of the Upshot piece note, most of the change occurred outside major metropolitan areas, with more than 1800 counties moving at least 15 points away from Clinton, while only 15 counties "tilted by more than five percentage points" in her favor, compared to 2012.

The Economist got in on the analysis action with this short piece, "A Country Divided by Counties".   It concludes with this sober thought:
American politics appear to be realigning along a cleavage between inward-looking countryfolk and urban globalists. Mr Trump hails from the latter group, but his message resounded with the former. A uniquely divisive candidate, he is both perhaps the least likely politician in the country to build bridges across that gap and also the only one who has the capacity to do so.
Just thinking of the British perspective on the election is a reminder of Brexit and the rural-urban divide on that vote.  Read more here.

The New York Review of Books did a lengthy post-mortem on the election over the week-end, and it included some rural-urban analysis.  In particular, the piece by Elizabeth Drew includes references to David Wasserman's Cracker Barrel index.  That is, Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, uses counties that have a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (n=493) as a proxy for the rural vote and those with Whole Food stores (n=184) as proxies for the urban vote.
 In 2012 Obama carried 75 percent of the counties that had a Whole Foods and 29 percent of the counties with a Cracker Barrel. But that spread was exceeded this year—in the other direction—with Trump winning 76 percent of counties with Cracker Barrel stores and just 22 percent of counties with Whole Foods.
Drew also quotes J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy and a widely quoted pundit on the white working class during this election season.  Vance weighs in on the cultural issues, some of which align along the rural-urban axis:
People who are drawn to Trump are drawn to him because he’s a little outrageous, he’s a little relatable, and fundamentally he is angry and spiteful and critical of the things that people feel anger and spite toward. ... It’s people who are perceived to be powerful. It’s the Hillary Clintons of the world, the Barack Obamas of the world, the Wall Street executives of the world. There just isn’t anyone out there who will talk about the system like it’s completely rigged like Donald Trump does. It’s certainly not something you’re going to hear from Hillary Clinton.
Note the similarities to Cramer's thesis.  Anger is central.  Differences in education matter--as does the perceived elitism--the disdain for rural and working class folk--of the narrating classes.  (I wrote about these issues, too, in my 2011 post-mortem on the 2008 election, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars). There I documented media depictions of rural people and places in the 2008 election cycle.  I also suggested that rurality has become a feature of identity for rural dwellers--a notion Kathy Cramer's work also confirms.

Of course, the rural-urban divide was played up explicitly and dramatically in the 2008 election cycle because Sarah Palin took up the mantle of Main Street and foisted that of Wall Street onto uber urban Obama.  The rural-urban divide wasn't so prominent in the 2016 election cycle rhetoric, but clearly the undercurrent of difference--and rural discontent--is alive and well.

One of the best pieces I read on the rural-urban divide in the United States before last week's vote was this one, by Colorado Public Radio, which I blogged about here.  It compared rural Rocky Ford with metropolitan Denver.

Meanwhile, back in California, I note that while Hillary Clinton carried the state handily, she lost in a number of nonmetropolitan counties, including those associated with the State of Jefferson in the far northern reaches.  (Read earlier blog posts about the State of Jefferson here and here).  The only coastal county that Trump carried was Del Norte, on the Oregon border, but he also prevailed by large margins in Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc, Shasta, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Amador, Calaveras, Tehama, Yuba, Glenn, Colusa, Sutter, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Kings and Inyo counties.  Trump also carried several largish metropolitan counties:  El Dorado, Placer, Kern, Stanislaus, and Butte. Defying the clustering, Mono and Alpine counties--with their tiny Sierra-Nevada populations--went for Hillary Clinton.

Shifting away from the self-declared focus on rural and low-income folks for a moment, it is also telling that Trump carried Placer County--an affluent urban/exurban county north and northeast of Sacramento.  Levels of education and income are high in the Roseville and Rocklin areas.  So, much as a great deal of news analysis is of the enigmatic rural and working class voters, exit polls (usual caveats apply) indicate that the income bracket from which Trump drew the greatest level of support was $50K-$99K.  For those in income brackets above $99K, Trump beat Hillary in every income bracket with far greater margins than he enjoyed from those in income brackets below $50K.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Add Nevada County to Alpine and Mono bucking the red trend for Sierra Nevada counties. Our story here: A short analysis of Nevada County’s partial results