Donald Trump won the presidency with a surge of votes from rural counties, small towns, and medium sized cities. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s vote outside the nation’s largest metropolitan areas dropped precipitously from Democratic returns in 2012.
Final vote totals are not available, but it is possible to see a shift in the nature of American politics from 2012. Democrats saw big declines in their percentage of the vote outside the cities. (See chart.) Republican Trump, meanwhile, had a nearly 7.3 million vote deficit in metropolitan areas almost erased by totals in rural counties and counties with towns under 50,000 people.
“When we look at broad sums across states and across the nation, this vote appears largely continuous with past elections,” said University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel. “It was a close race, and only a few states flipped, and by very small percentages. But as usual, a more granular look at the county and neighborhood level reveals some considerable shifts and movements from 2012.”
Clinton came close to matching Obama’s total vote in the nation’s largest cities, Gimpel said, but that advantage was countered by Trump’s larger vote from mid-sized and smaller counties.
“From a geographic standpoint, the Trump-Clinton contest was more polarizing than Romney-Obama, with bigger gaps separating the most urban from the most rural locations,” Gimpel said.
Clinton’s totals were off President Obama’s 2012 vote across the board, but the drop was dramatic in nonmetropolitan America. As of today, Clinton’s totals in the nation’s cities were running 6 percent below Obama’s vote in 2012.
But in micropolitan counties (those with towns between 10,000 and 50,000) her vote was 7.5 percentage points behind Obama’s 2012 total. And in rural counties, she was 8.3 points behind Obama in 2012.
Trump, on the other hand, did only slightly worse in metropolitan areas than Romney did in 2012. And he beat Romney’s nonmetropolitan performance by more than 5 percentage points.
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.