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To reach his unofficial win in Pennsylvania, Joe Biden got a critical bump from suburban voters around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But the margin of victory is so close, Democratic voters in small cities and rural areas can also accurately claim to be part of the winning formula.
With both parties’ candidates getting a larger number of votes this year compared to 2016, the race was decided by how much increased turnout Biden and Donald Trump could attract. (The graph above shows how Biden got a larger share of the vote in every type of county compared to Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016.)
In rural counties and small metropolitan areas, Biden attracted 66,090 more voters than Clinton did in 2016. Trump offset Biden’s gain by earning an additional 107,048 votes than he did in 2016. That made Trump’s net gain with these voters 40,958 compared to 2016. (See the Daily Yonder’s county category definitions at the end of this article.)
Interestingly, Trump also had a small net gain of votes in the core counties of major metropolitan areas, a key Democratic stronghold. Trump earned 32,000 additional votes in these counties, while Biden earned only 22,359 additional votes compared to Clinton in 2016. That gave Trump a net gain of just under 10,000 votes in core major metro areas.
Biden’s winning share of new votes came from the suburbs of Pennsylvania’s major metropolitan areas and in medium-sized metropolitan areas. In these counties, Biden netted about 129,000 additional votes.
With the current winning margin of only 34,000 votes, Biden needed his increased turnout in all types of Pennsylvania counties to defeat Trump. So major suburbs and medium metro areas were definitive. And so were the additional votes that came from small cities and rural areas.
Biden lost among rural voters by about 3 to 1 in Pennsylvania.
In Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where Biden also won, the rural margin ranged from 2-3 to 1 for Trump. In Ohio, Trump won and took rural voters by nearly 4 to 1. Ohio rural voters were the source of most of Trump’s net gain in turnout.
While Biden’s performance in Pennsylvania was better than Clinton’s in 2016, he didn’t do as well as Democrats did in the state in the 2018 midterm U.S. House of Representative elections. The graph below shows the Democrats’ performance in the 2016 presidential, 2018 House, and 2020 presidential elections.
Across the urban to rural continuum, Democrats got a bigger share of the vote in 2018 than Biden did in 2020. This is a national trend that resulted from above-normal Democratic turnout in the midterm election.
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.