The graph compares the percent of the total vote earned by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. Category descriptions are at the end of the article. (Daily Yonder graphic)

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Joe Biden did a little better with Georgia’s rural voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. And without that improvement, he wouldn’t be leading Donald Trump by about 10,000 votes.

But as in Pennsylvania, Biden’s biggest gains over Clinton’s 2016 performance came in suburban counties around major-metropolitan areas. In Georgia, that means Atlanta, which, with more than 6 million residents, is the only major metro in the state.

In the Atlanta suburbs, Biden earned about 340,000 more votes than Clinton did four years ago. Trump also improved on his 2016 vote by nearly 150,000 votes in those counties. That gave Biden a net increase of about 190,000 votes in major metro suburban counties.

Trump made up some of that loss in the suburbs of medium sized metropolitan areas – counties outside Savannah, Columbus, Augusta, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, which adjoins Georgia on its northern border.

Trump also netted additional votes in smaller metropolitan areas like Valdosta, Rome, Gainesville, Dalton, and others. He lost small metro counties only when there was a university (the University of Georgia in Clarke County) or a large percentage of African American residents in counties such as Bibb (Macon) and Dougherty (Albany).

Trump got about 93,000 additional votes in nonmetropolitan counties over his 2016 tally. Biden got 40,000 more votes in nonmetropolitan counties than Clinton. As in 2016, Trump won nonmetro voters by more than 2 to 1. But the extra rural votes Biden got this year kept him in the contest. Without his additional rural votes, Biden would be down by about 29,000 votes, or about half a percentage point.

Of course, you can say the same for the additional votes he got in all types of counties – from the largest cities to the smallest rural areas. In close elections, every vote matters.

The graph compares the Democratic percent of the total vote in Georgia in the 2016 presidential election, the 2018 U.S. House election (combining the results for all Democratic candidates into one group), and the 2020 presidential election. (Daily Yonder graphic)

One other thing worth noting about Georgia:

In other battleground states and nationally, Biden did better than Clinton in both metropolitan and rural areas. But he didn’t do quite as well as Democrats did in the 2018 midterm U.S. House elections. In Georgia, there was a slightly different story (see the graph above). Democratic voters followed the national pattern in the core counties of major metros. But elsewhere, Biden did better than Georgia’s Democratic U.S. House candidates in 2018.

Georgia had a closely contested governor’s race in 2018, which could have altered turnout.

Also, analysts have pointed to voter registration and turnout efforts in Georgia that could have increased turnout in Democratic strongholds. Biden’s improved performance over 2018 levels in major metropolitan suburbs and medium-sized metros could be one result.

Daily Yonder County Categories

To help show differences that emerge as areas move from urbanized to rural, the Daily Yonder is using the following county categories in this story:

  • Major Metropolitan Core: Core, urbanized counties of metropolitan areas with a population of 1 million or more residents.
  • Major Metro Suburbs: The suburban areas surrounding the core counties of a major metropolitan area.
  • Medium Metro Core: Core, urbanized counties of metropolitan areas with a population of 250,000 to 999,999 residents.
  • Small Metropolitan: All counties in a metropolitan area of 50,000 to 249,999 residents.
  • Rural Adjacent: Nonmetropolitan counties that are adjacent to a metropolitan county.
  • Rural Nonadjacent: Nonmetropolitan counties that are not adjacent to a metropolitan county.

“Metropolitan” is based on the system devised by the federal Office of Management and Budget. More information on how to define rural may be found at the USDA Economic Research Service.