Barack Obama decreased his party's losses in rural and exurban America while substantially increasing the Democratic vote in the cities over the totals from 2004.
The 2008 election was the opposite of 2004. Four years ago, George Bush ran up large margins in rural and exurban counties to overcome John Kerry's 3.7 million vote advantage in the cities.
This year, however, Barack Obama managed to tamp down the Republican advantage in rural and exurban areas and then vastly increased the Democratic margins in the cities. Obama won with city votes, but he showed improvement in rural and exurban counties — in some important states, that increase in the rural vote was dramatic.
Obama's improvement in rural areas was especially pronounced in the states that were fought over by both campaigns this year. Nationally, McCain won all rural counties by 13 percentage points.
In battleground states — states John Kerry lost by 15 points in '04 — Obama reduced this deficit to just 7 percentage points.
Nationally, Obama was able to win 43% of the rural vote. (This is the actual vote from counties the U.S. Census designates as "non metro.") In 2004, John Kerry won 39.8% of the vote from these same counties.
Obama won 40.7% of the exurban vote. (These are metro counties with substantial numbers of rural residents.) In these same counties four years ago, John Kerry won 38.1% of the vote.
In urban counties, Barack Obama won 57% of the vote. In 2004, John Kerry picked up 51.6% of the vote in the cities.
Obama increased the Democratic share of the vote from 2004:
“¢ 3.2 percentage points in rural counties. (These counties had 17.5 percent of the vote this year.)
“¢ 2.57 percentage points in exurban counties. (These counties had 9.8% of the national vote.)
“¢ 5.4 percentage points in urban counties. (These counties had 72.7% of the national vote.)
Obama won the rural vote in eleven states, including all of New England. He won the urban vote in 33 states.
There were ten states that changed from Republican in '04 to Democratic in 2008, or are now too close to call. They are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. Obama won the urban vote in all of these states by wide margins.
Among the ten change-of-allegiance states, he won the rural vote in only New Mexico and Iowa — but he increased the Democratic Party's share of the rural vote in all ten states. In Indiana, Obama won 43 percent of the rural vote, up more than 11 percentage points from 2004. In Florida, the Democrats' take of the rural vote didn't change at all.
In 8 of the ten states that flipped (or are too close to call), rural voters shifted Democratic at rates higher than the national average.
The Obama campaign strategically plucked votes out of rural states. The Democrat was particularly good at pulling votes from rural counties with colleges or universities. (See Yonder story on this phenomenon.)
There was a striking switch in allegiance in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Two cities that have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in generations supported Obama in this election.
Harrisonburg and Staunton, Virginia, hadn't voted for a Democrat since World War II. Obama visited Harrisonburg during the last week of the campaign. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to campaign in the town since Stephen Douglas visited in 1860.
Obama came for the students clustered in that nook of Virginia. James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University are in Harrisonburg. Mary Baldwin University is located in Staunton. Obama carried these towns with large numbers of student votes. The precinct that included the James Madison University campus recorded the most votes ever, nearly a third of the city's total number of ballots.