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Two strong trends continued Tuesday in presidential politics: New York real estate developer Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both won handily. And rural voters turned out for the candidates who presented the strongest challenge to the establishment.
Trump swept all five states in the Republican Party primary. Clinton won four states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut) while losing Rhode Island to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Rhode Island and Delaware don’t have any rural counties, but in the other three states both Trump and Sanders did much better among rural and small-town voters than their opponents.
Rural support for the “outsider” candidates – the brash-talking Trump and democratic-socialist Sanders – has been a constant this primary season. Trump has openly run against the Republican Party hierarchy and Sanders reluctantly declared himself a Democrat just before deciding to run for the presidency and calls for a political “revolution.”
But those two candidates are the ones rural voters have supported in many primaries — and Trump and Sanders were the favorites of rural voters again Tuesday.
Trump won 55.7 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania’s cities, but 63 percent of the vote in rural counties and in counties with small cities (between 10,000 and 50,000 people).
Sanders won only 43.2 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania’s large urban areas, but in rural counties he won a thin majority to defeat Clinton there.
The total rural and small town vote in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary was tiny, however, only 7 percent of the vote. The Democratic vote is growing increasingly urban. In the general election in 2012, 10.4 percent of the vote came from rural and small town counties.
Rural voters supported Trump and Sanders in every state Tuesday, as the charts show.
Sanders won 57.5 percent of the vote in the one Connecticut county (Litchfield) that remains outside a metropolitan area. Clinton won that state with 52.6 percent of the vote. Trump won 63.2 percent of the vote in Litchfield compared to 58.6 percent in Connecticut’s metro counties.
In Maryland, Clinton won with over 63 percent of the vote. But in rural counties, she took 49.9 percent of the vote. Rural Marylanders gave Sanders and an “uncommitted” slate 49 percent of the vote, nearly 13 points higher than in metro counties.
These results are a complete reversal from Clinton’s 2008 run for the presidency against then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Wall Street Journal writers Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni write:
Mrs. Clinton now enjoys far less support from rural and working-class white Democrats, a Wall Street Journal analysis of this year’s primary results shows. Instead, she is dominant among minority voters and upscale, urban and suburban professionals—voters who eight years ago largely rejected her for then-Sen. Barack Obama.
In essence, Mrs. Clinton has adopted Mr. Obama’s political coalition. Her rival this year, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has taken over her leading position among rural, white voters and has claimed only one part of Mr. Obama’s political base: young adults.
“There’s been a kind of role-reversal, with Sanders winning the white, blue-collar workers—people who earn under $50,000,” said Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
The next primary comes in Indiana next Tuesday.
How this story defines rural. This story uses the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) system to define cities, small cities, and rural areas. Metropolitan areas (called “cities” in our charts) are counties that have a city of 50,000 or more. Metropolitan areas also include the surrounding counties (no matter what size their population is) if the counties have strong economic ties to the central metropolitan area. Small cities (micropolitan areas) are outside an MSA and have a city of 10,000 or more residents. Rural areas (noncore) are counties that are not part of an MSA and do not have a city of 10,000 or greater. There’s more (lots more!) on this topic over at the USDA Economic Research Service website.