Campaigning by Trump Didn’t Sway Alabama’s Rural Voters in GOP Runoff

Roy Moore glides to the Senate nomination on the unintended shirttails of the president who opposed him in the election. Moore did best in areas where Trump was most popular in 2016. Moore also swept the election in all types of counties except Birmingham’s urban core.

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Despite President Trump’s efforts to boost the candidacy of Senator Luther Strange in yesterday’s Alabama GOP runoff election, the man labeled as the “establishment candidate” performed worst in counties where Trump did best during the 2016 presidential primary.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore easily won a special Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate Tuesday. He will face Democrat Doug Jones on December 12 for the seat previously occupied by Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate when he was appointed U.S. attorney general.

 

Challenger Roy Moore (whose votes are represented by the blue bars) won every type of county except the urban core of Birmingham, the state’s largest metro area. (A description of the county categories is posted at the bottom of this article.) (Daily Yonder graphic)

Moore won 55.6 percent of the vote statewide. In the counties where Trump won over 50 percent of his primary vote in 2016, against a crowded field of candidates, Moore won 59 percent of the vote.

Trump supported Moore’s rival, campaigning for Strange in Alabama the week before the election. But opposition from the president didn’t seem to matter to Alabama voters. Moore won his highest percentages of votes in counties where Trump did best in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Moore, like Trump in 2016, performed well in rural and suburban counties. His percentages rose as counties became more rural and more suburban.

In Alabama, winning outside cities is essential. Half the vote in yesterday’s primary were cast in small cities (126,000 votes out of 480,000) or in rural counties (116,000 votes).

This pie chart shows the relative number of voters along a continuum of most urban to most rural. Half of the state’s votes in the Republican runoff were cast in small metropolitan or rural counties. (Daily Yonder graphic)

The four counties that Strange took included an overwhelming win in Jefferson County, the central part of Birmingham.

While big urban wins are a central part of Democratic strategy at the national level, for a Republican candidate in Alabama, the big-city vote is far less important. Voters in the most urbanized parts of Birmingham, the state’s only metropolitan area of more than 1 million residents, accounted for only 12 percent of the electorate in Tuesday’s primary.

Moore’s largest margin of victory came in the suburbs of medium-sized cities (metropolitan areas of 250,000 to fewer than 1 million), where he won by 23 percentage points. In nonmetropolitan counties, he won by approximately 18 percentage points.

County definitions: This story uses a cateogorization system based on the size and location of metropolitan areas and nonmetropolitan counties. Large cities are the core counties of metropolitan areas of 1 million residents or more. Suburbs of large cities are the surrounding counties of these large metropolitan areas. Medium cities are the core urban counties of metropolitan areas of 250,000 to 999,999 residents. Suburbs of medium cities are the surrounding counties of these medium-sized metropolitan areas. Small cities are counties in metropolitan areas of 50,000 to 249,999 residents. Nonmetro adjacent are counties that are outside of, but adjacent to, a metropolitan area. Nonmetro nonadjacent (or nonmetro remote) are nonmetropolitan counties that are not adjacent to a metro area. The intent of the classification system is to show an urban to rural spectrum going from left to right in the bar chart.

 

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