Although the presidential primary calendar is as unsettled as a flu-season stomach, one certain thing about the early contests is that rural voters will play an outsized role.
There are six states now jockeying to begin the primary elections schedule — and four of those have a larger percentage of rural residents than the national average.
The three states likely to hold the earliest primaries — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — have about twice the percentage of rural residents as does the nation as a whole. Michigan, among the early primary states, is the closest to having an average-sized rural population.
What constitutes “rural” is a question with no settled answer. The Daily Yonder has pieced together its own definition, one that includes 26 percent of the U.S. population. The most commonly used definition of “non-metropolitan” counties counts only 17 percent of the U.S. population as rural residents.
The Yonder definition counts as “rural” many exurban counties (adjacent to cities) as well as very small metropolitan areas. The diffence between our “rural” and the prevailing definition is particularly evident in South Carolina. By the Yonder’s definition, Florence and Pickens, South Carolina, for example, are considered rural, while the Census Bureau considers these towns “metropolitan.” As we see it, South Carolina’s rural population is largely exurban and small town.
The primary calendar is still a mess. Both Iowa (which holds caucuses) and New Hampshire (which by state law is to hold the first full-fledged primary election) are waiting for other states to set their dates — and edge ahead of them.