Election 2016: Urban vs. Rural

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 26, 2017 — Now that the election returns are official and divided into congressional district and county totals, we can now see exactly how the presidential election unfolded.

It became clear from early Election Night totals that Donald Trump won the national vote because of his performance in the outer suburbs and rural areas in the 30 states that he carried over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His margins there, largely because of turnout, were enough to compensate for Clinton’s larger-than-expected advantages in the major cities and inner suburbs.

In looking at the country’s largest metropolitan statistical areas, we find that Clinton scored an average 59.9 percent of the vote, when averaging her percentage performance in the nation’s 10 most populous urban regions. This compares to President Trump’s 35.8 percent. Keep in mind that the national popular vote percentage total was 48.1 – 46.0 percent.

In the rural areas surrounding these specific urban centers, the numbers dramatically changed. Counterbalancing the Clinton margins in the metroplexes, Trump’s lead in the outer suburban and rural regions in the states he carried was roughly equivalent to the former secretary of state’s urban advantage but with greater turnout. In the corresponding Trump state rural regions, the new president averaged 56.8 percent as compared to Clinton’s 39.7 percent.

The 10 metropolitan areas in question are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta and Boston. In their parent states, Trump won Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia.

Looking just at those places and beginning in Texas, Clinton lost both the Dallas and Houston metro statistical areas by small margins. Trump then scored a 55-41 percent edge in all other areas outside of the state’s two biggest cities, including the heavily Democratic Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and liberal Travis County (Austin).

In Pennsylvania, the difference between the metro and rural areas was stark and virtually inverse. In the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which does include part of New Jersey and Delaware, Clinton’s advantage was 59-38 percent. In the rural and outer suburban regions of Pennsylvania, and even including Pittsburgh, the Trump edge was an almost identical 57-39 percent.

Turning to critical Florida, a state Trump had to win to be in position for national victory, we see a strong Clinton surge in the Miami MSA. She topped Trump 61-37 percent there, which is slightly better than President Obama’s performance against Mitt Romney in 2012 (60-38 percent). Outside of Miami, and with a stronger turnout, Trump captured a 53-43 percent advantage, which was enough to take the state by less than two percentage points.

Finally in Georgia, we may see the most extreme example of the rural versus metro split. In the Atlanta MSA, Clinton recorded a whopping 65-32 percent split, but Trump completely wiped out that advantage with his own 62-35 percent victory margin throughout the rest of the Peach State. The stronger turnout outside of Atlanta, greatly contributed to yielding Trump an important six-point statewide win.

In the Clinton states, we see different trends. In her strongest state, California, the difference between the mega Los Angeles and Orange County region versus the rest of the state, was small. She topped the new president 67-27 percent in the LA metro area, but came up with a relatively similar 60-34 percent spread in the rest of the state.

Though Clinton scored a landslide win in New York City and Long Island (61-36 percent), she surprisingly lost the 11 districts that comprise the Upstate by a slight 47.6 – 47.2 percent difference.

Though the Democratic nominee easily carried her birth state of Illinois (56-39 percent), there was still a large discrepancy between Cook County (Chicago) and the rest of the Land of Lincoln. In the metro area, Clinton scored a 57-38 percent victory. Downstate, it was Trump registering a 55-39 percent spread.

Despite her strong performance in California, the Los Angeles area was not Clinton’s strongest population center. That was actually Washington, DC, when counting the Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs that border the District. When combining all the relevant sectors of this area, Clinton actually topped 75 percent of the vote.

Finally, in Boston and Massachusetts, one of the more homogeneous voting regions in the country, the Clinton urban and rural numbers were relatively similar.

Though cities have traditionally voted Democratic while outer suburban and many rural regions support Republicans, the wide disparity found in 2016 is yet another unique attribute to one of the most memorable elections in American political history.

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