When we watch the Election Day results come rolling in next Tuesday, we will be listening for how the rural and urban areas voted. That's not a bad way to figure out who will eventually win the Presidency.
To make sense of things next Tuesday night — that’s Election Day, in case you didn’t remember — you’re going to need a scorecard.
Yes, John King on CNN will be tapping on his map, turning states blue and then red and then blue again. And every news station will be breathlessly presenting live vote results and numbers from the exit polls.
What we want to know is how the vote is turning out geographically. How are rural communities voting? And what does that mean for the election of the next president?
Okay, get your printer warmed up, because we’ve got your Daily Yonder Rural-Urban-Exurban Scorecard right here. All you need are the peanuts and the coffee (because this could be a late night).
The first numbers you’re going to hear (or read online) are from the exit polls. This is a poll taken outside a representative sample of polling places. Researchers approach people who have voted and ask them questions about who they are, which candidate they voted for and why.
One of the questions they ask is whether the voter lives in a rural, urban or suburban area.
The chart at the top of the page shows the history of how rural, urban and suburban people voted, according to the exit polls, since 1984. The graph shows the vote for the Republican candidate. (The Democrat got the remainder; if the chart shows the Republican winning 55 percent of the vote, the Democrat won 45 percent.) These numbers came from a great site, The Dimpled Chad.
You can see that since ’84, urban voters have been reliably Democratic while rural and suburban voters go Republican. So don’t be surprised when you hear that the “rural vote” is swinging toward Mitt Romney. The question is, at what percentage?
When Democrats win 45 percent or more of the rural vote nationally, they win the White House — at least since 1984. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both did well in rural communities, Clinton winning in rural America in 1996.
Also, Democrats win when they take 50 percent or more of the suburban vote.
Republicans take over when they win more than 40 percent of the urban vote. The only time when a Republican won with less than 40 percent of the urban vote was in 2000 — and then George W. Bush did exceptionally well among rural voters, winning over 60 percent. (And, remember, George Bush didn’t win the popular vote in 2000.)
So, if the exit polls show that Obama is winning more than 45 percent of the rural vote, that’s good for Democrats.
If Mitt Romney is winning nearly 45 percent of the urban vote, Republicans should be happy.
But we all know that this election isn’t about the national vote. The Electoral College votes from each state will pick the President, and the Electoral College now teeters on just a handful of closely contested states.
The chart below shows the actual votes in these states in the last two elections, rural, urban and exurban.
There’s something to remember when you look at actual votes here versus the exit polls. The exit poll asks people where they live. They are urban if they live in a city of greater than 50,000 people. They are rural or suburban if they say so. There is no set definition.
The chart above gives real votes by counties. Rural counties are non-metropolitan, according to the U.S. Census. Urban counties are within metropolitan statistical areas. Exurban counties are in metropolitan statistical areas, but they have about half their residents living in rural settings.
If you wanted a straight rural v. urban count, you would combine the urban and exurban categories.
This chart will help in deciphering the vote Tuesday night. For instance, if Romney is getting over 45 percent of the vote in urban Wisconsin, look out Democrats.
There were large swings in the vote in Nevada between 2004 and 2008.
And in Ohio, will Obama be able to keep his rural vote above 40 percent?
By Wednesday morning, we’ll begin to have some answers.