Four years ago, there was a real rural/urban divide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primaries. This year, the gap between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum is slight.
We heard in the weeks leading up to the Michigan Republican primary that there was a clear split between rural and urban voters.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the city boy. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would sweep the countryside.
The vote came in yesterday and Romney did do better in urban counties while Santorum won rural. But the story of the day really was in how small those long talked-about differences turned out to be.
There wasn’t a vast difference in how rural and urban Republican residents voted. There was just a slight shift toward Santorum in rural counties and toward Romney in the cities.
Certainly, the differences in rural and urban Republican voters so far in 2012 is nothing like the double digit chasms found in the 2008 Democratic primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Consider: In the 2008 Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Clinton beat Obama among rural voters by 32 percentage points, 66% to 34%.
In Ohio, Clinton beat Obama by 32 percentage points in rural counties. In Texas, Clinton beat Obama by 28 points in rural counties.
The Republican primary this year has not shown any of those gaps between rural and urban voters. The trend is consistent — Romney does better in urban counties — but the differences have been small.
In Michigan yesterday, Rick Santorum bested Mitt Romney among rural voters by five points. Romney beat Santorum in urban counties by seven points.
There was a difference, yes, but hardly a large divide.
The chart above shows the Michigan vote in rural counties. On the next page are similar charts for urban and exurban counties. (Exurban counties are in metropolitan areas, but a large proportion of people who live there reside in rural settings.)
As usual, the exit polls are a flawed way to determine the rural and urban vote. The exit polls, for example, showed Romney winning 34 percent of the rural vote. In reality, he won 38.3 percent of the vote in rural counties.
Romney won only one county with more than half the vote. (For this calculation, we counted only votes for Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Romney.) That was Oakland, an urban county. The next seven counties with the highest percentage of Romney votes were all rural — Leelanau, Roscommon, Emmet, Charlevoix, Iosco, Montgomery and Antrim.
Santorum had more than half the vote in 8 counties. His highest percentage came in Newaygo, an exurban county where he won 52.9 percent of the vote.
The vote was remarkably even, as the charts below show. Here are the results from Michigan’s urban counties.
Here are the results from Michigan’s exurban counties.