Election 2016: Newspapers Seek to Explain Rural Voter Preferences

From Missouri to Virginia, national press are digging into the rural primary vote, looking for reasons for the popularity of Trump and Sanders.

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New Yorkers will vote Tuesday in their presidential party primaries and it looks like a trend will continue: Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump will do better outside the cities than within the metro limits.

Yes, Trump is dominating his opponents (Governor John Kasich and Senator Ted Cruz) in New York, according to the polls. But CNN notes that the New York City real estate developer and TV star is “especially popular among voters in upstate and rural regions.”

Former Secretary of State (and New York Senator) Hillary Clinton leads Sanders in all the polls, but most of her strength comes from New York City and its suburbs. She’s up by 26 points in the city and 24 points in the suburbs, according to the latest Marist College poll. But Sanders and Clinton are “neck-and-neck in the state’s rural areas,” according to MSNBC.

This arrangement — with Sanders and Trump stronger outside the cities than in — has been a trend Yonder readers should recognize. We’ve found in a number of primaries that the two candidates who are running the most anti-establishment campaigns do best in rural areas.

Now two newspapers have tried to figure out what’s up with the rural support for a brash television reality star (Trump) and a self-described “democratic-socialist” (Sanders).

“Worlds apart politically, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders tend to draw higher percentages of voter support in small towns and rural counties than they do in cities, primary results in some states show,” writes the Kansas City Star’s Rick Montgomery.

Look no further than Bates County in western Missouri, where the pattern held in the March 15 presidential primary.

Montgomery goes to Bates County in western Missouri, which Trump and Sanders won in the March 15 presidential primary. What voters in Bates County apparently did not want was anybody associated with the political establishment. “I’m not surprised,” said county commissioner Jim Wheatley said of Sanders’ and Trumps’ success. “Neither candidate is seen as an insider politician.”

Montgomery also finds concern that rural communities aren’t benefiting from the “new economy” and that the American dream may have passed rural America by.

“That’s very much what’s going on with the appeal of Trump and Sanders” in rural America, Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow, who grew up in Lyons, Kansas, told Montgomery. “Voters are looking for that anti-establishment person.”

“In a small town,” Wuthnow said, “you kind of feel that you ought to be able to handle most things on your own. You know the sheriff, you know your neighbors, you support the schools. You see potholes and want to fix them. All that stuff doesn’t seem to work in the nation’s capital. Nothing gets fixed.”

Wall Street Journal reporters Bob Davis and Rebecca Ballhaus go to Buchannan County, Virginia, a coal county near Yonder headquarters in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and the place where Donald Trump won by his highest percentage in any primary election. Trump took 69.7 percent of the vote in March.

They report here.

Voters here say Mr. Trump understands their frustration and will fight the Washington establishment on their behalf. In an area awash in uncertainty—Will mines remain open? Will the river flood? Must the young leave to find work?—he is a reassuring presence, someone who has visited their living rooms for years via television.

The Journal reports show that Trump wins where opportunities are the lowest. They report:

“Nationwide, the 10 counties Mr. Trump has carried by the largest margins have much in common. They are mainly white, rural and southern. They sharply lag behind the national average in household income and education, and top it in poverty and disability payments.

“Four of these counties rely on agriculture, says Moody’s Analytics, while another three are local transportation hubs. A big employer in one, Tallahatchie County, Miss., is a prison.”




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