Businessman and reality-TV star Donald Trump expanded his lead in the Republican presidential nomination race Tuesday, benefiting from a fragmented field of opposing candidates and a moderate boost from rural voters, especially in Virginia.
Trump took seven of the 12 states participating in this year’s Super Tuesday, though he didn’t win a majority of votes in any state. In two states, he took primary victories with only a third of the popular vote.
Trump won three of the four Super Tuesday states the Daily Yonder analyzed with county-level election data. In those states (Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia) Trump saw a moderate but relatively consistent increase in popularity in more rural areas.
In Virginia, Trump owes his 3 point victory over Rubio to voters in small cities and rural areas. Trump and Rubio tied with 33 percent each of metropolitan voters. But Trump won 47 percent of the rural vote and 53 percent of small-city voters – his only outright majority vote in the four states we analyzed — to scrape out the win.
Rubio’s lack of popularity with rural voters was consistent across the four states we examined. Though the race for first place isn’t tight, rural votes could still affect whether Rubio has enough support to win an apportioned share of convention delegates, which would be critical if the nomination comes down to a brokered deal at the Republican convention.
In Tennessee, Trump won the statewide Republican race with 39 percent of the vote, defeating his closest competitor, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, by 14 points. Trump underperformed slightly among metropolitan voters, winning 36 percent of the vote there. His support climbed to 45 percent among voters in small cities, and to 49 percent among rural voters. (See our definition of rural at the bottom of this story for more information on how we classified counties for this analysis.)
Georgia tells a similar story. There, Trump won the statewide contest with 39 percent of the vote, versus 24 percent each for Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Again, Trump underperformed slightly with metropolitan voters, with 37 percent. His support among small-city voters expanded to 46 percent and among rural voters to 48 percent.
In Oklahoma, Trump’s popularity grew slightly from cities to small cities to rural areas. But Cruz beat him in cities, small cities, and rural areas to win the state.
Cruz also won his home state of Texas, plus Alaska. Trump took second in each of the three states Cruz won.
Rubio took Minnesota, where Cruz finished second.
The other trend among rural voters was their lack of enthusiasm for Rubio. In Tennessee, Rubio’s support slipped from 23 percent to 16 percent and 14 percent among metropolitan, small city, and rural voters respectively. A similar trend was evident in Oklahoma and Georgia. The same pattern was nearly identical in Virginia for the Florida senator.
Cruz’ support remained relatively stable across voters in cities, small cities, and rural areas.
The other continuing story in Tuesday’s races was the failure of Republican voters to coalesce around an alternative to Trump. In the seven states Trump won on Tuesday, second place went to three different candidates (Cruz in Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee; Rubio in Virginia; and Kasich in Vermont. Cruz and Rubio tied for second in Georgia; Rubio and Kasich tied for second in Massachusetts.)
How this story defines rural. This story uses the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) system to define cities, small cities, and rural areas. Metropolitan areas (cities) are counties that 1) have a city of 50,000 or more or 2) are adjacent to a county with a city that size and have strong economic ties to that county. Small cities (micropolitan areas) are outside an MSA and have a city of 10,000 to less than 50,000 residents. Rural areas (noncore) are counties that are not part of a MSA and do not have a city of 10,000 or greater. There’s more (lots more!) on this topic over at the USDA Economic Research Service website.