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Rural voters in Wisconsin and Michigan were part of keeping Joe Biden’s presidential aspirations alive this week by helping flip those states into the Democratic column.

In both states, plus the adjoining swing state of Minnesota, Biden improved his prospects by doing better with rural voters than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee.

Biden’s gains with rural voters in these Great Lakes states were small – 2 to 3 points over Clinton’s 2016 numbers. But in nearby Ohio, Biden didn’t improve his standing with rural voters, and the swing state remained in Donald Trump’s column.

To look at the difference between the 2016 and 2020 rural vote in these four Great Lakes battleground states, we compared Biden’s percentage of the rural vote to Clinton’s in 2016 using the Daily Yonder’s county categorization system.

In the three states that Biden won (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin), Biden got a bigger share of the vote across the board than Clinton did in 2016 – from the largest metropolitan areas to the smallest rural counties.

Biden’s gains tend to be a little greater in larger cities. But his rural margins improved by about 3 points in Michigan and Minnesota and 2 points in Wisconsin.

The story is different in Ohio, where Biden lost to Trump by 8 points overall. Biden did a bit better with voters in major and medium-sized metropolitan areas than Clinton did four years ago. But his popularity flatlined with voters in small cities and rural areas. Clinton got 28.2% of the voters in small cities and rural areas in 2016. Biden got 28.3%.

The gains Biden did make in urban areas were more than canceled out by Trump’s margins in small cities and rural areas.

Trump, as expected, won the rural vote in all four of these battleground states by wide margins. But his nearly 50-point rural victory in Ohio, versus a 23-point margin in Michigan, could be the difference in netting Ohio’s 18 electoral votes

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.