As GOP Field Narrows, Trump’s Rural Popularity Continues

Ted Cruz underperformed with Missouri rural voters, perhaps giving a hint of how things might look in a two-way race with Donald Trump. For Democrats, Hillary Clinton's rural popularity still isn't solidifying like it did in 2008. But rural voters don't seem all that keen on Bernie Sanders, either.

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Governor John Kasich added a new twist to the 2016 primary season by winning his home state of Ohio Tuesday, but some familiar trends about the preferences of rural voters continued.

Kasich won handily among city voters with a 14 point lead over second-place Donald Trump, the New York businessman and promoter. The governor beat Trump by less than 3 points in small cities. And in rural areas, Kasich lost to Trump by a few tenths of a percentage point.

Kasich’s lead in cities and small cities was more than enough to put him over the top in Ohio. He took the state by about 11 points. But in a trend we’ve seen frequently this season, the Ohio governor’s support softened as voters became more rural. Conversely, Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz saw a rise in the percentage of the vote they won from urban to rural areas.

The chart at the top of the page on the left has the story. Kasich’s share of the vote is shown in green, Trump’s in blue, and Cruz’s in red.



Also of notable is the shape of the rural vote (above chart) in Missouri’s too-close-to-call race between Trump (blue) and Cruz (red). Cruz won city voters by about 4 points. Trump won among small city voters by a similar number. And with rural voters, Trump beat Cruz by 9 points to bring the contest to within about 1,500 votes.

In the past, with multiple candidates, there has been enough room for both Cruz and Trump to gain ground in rural areas. This time, however, Cruz’s percentage of the vote declined as he moved out of urban areas.  With the Republican field narrowing after Senator Marco Rubio’s withdrawal, Missouri might offer an early glimpse of future primaries if the contest becomes a two-way fight.

Cruz’s support with rural voters in North Carolina also faded, but ever so slightly. Cruz declined by about 1.5 points from cities to rural. Meanwhile, Trump saw another bounce, gaining about 9 points over his performance with city voters.



Here are the Republican charts from the other primary races in Florida (where Rubio, the Florida senator, nibbled on Cruz’s usual margin) and Illinois (where Trump saw his usual bump with rural voters).




The view on the Democratic side looks familiar. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw a slight decline in support as voters became more rural in Ohio. (That chart is at the top of the page on the right.) During her 2008 primary race against then Senator Barack Obama, Clinton was generally more popular with rural voters than Obama.

The slight softening in support among rural voters came nowhere close to giving Sanders a majority with city, town, or rural voters, though. Clinton won in all three geographic categories.

The pattern was pretty much the same for the Democrats in Illinois and Florida.



In North Carolina, a bit of the 2008 pattern emerged as Clinton’s popularity grew by 3 percentage points from cities to rural areas. But rural Tar Heels were more reluctant than the rest of the state to vote for either candidate. The percentage of voters picking “uncommitted” or a third candidate grew to 9 points among rural voters. In cities, it was 3.5 percent.


In Missouri, small-city voters are keeping Sanders in the race, with the contest still not called by Wednesday afternoon. Clinton leads by about 1,500 votes. Sanders made the race tighter by winning among small-city voters by about 2,200 votes.


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 a 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.




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