Is Republican Donald Trump a rural phenomenon, a product of an angry and hard-to-understand rural electorate?
You’d think so from the recent coverage of the 2016 campaign. When reporters from the New Yorker magazine and the Guardian newspaper wanted to plumb the minds of Trump voters, they ventured to out-of-the-way towns in West Virginia, the “heart of Trump country.” They are just the latest in a trove of stories that attempt to explain Trump by talking to rural residents.
There’s a problem with this analysis, however. The problem is that during the Republican primary, Trump received about the same percentage of votes in rural counties as he did in metropolitan counties.
And the vote totals for Trump are overwhelmingly urban. There are four counties where the Trump vote in the primary exceeded the Trump total in all of West Virginia. Trump received 70 percent or more of the vote in the Republican primary in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties in California, and in each of those counties Trump received more votes than the 157,238 he got in the West Virginia primary. (In Arizona’s Maricopa County Trump received 166,000 votes, 44.8 percent of the total Republican vote.)
In the California Republican primary, 75 percent of voters supported Trump. In the West Virginia primary, that figure was 77 percent. And the vote total for Trump in California was ten times what the Republican received in West Virginia. (For the record, both the West Virginia and California primaries took place after Sen. Ted Cruz left the race.)
So why isn’t California the heart of Trump Country? Why don’t writers look for the soul of the Republican Party in Phoenix?
Okay, California will go Democratic when the election rolls around in a few weeks and West Virginia will vote heavily for the Republican. And it is true that there is a larger proportion of Republicans in nonmetropolitan counties than in the cities.
But Trump isn’t the nominee because of rural votes. More than 8 out of ten votes Donald Trump received in the primary came from the cities.
Moreover, nearly half of his votes (47.2 percent) came from the nation’s largest cities, those of a million or more people.
Meanwhile, only 19.1 percent of Trump’s primary vote came from rural counties.
Trump’s share of the primary vote was only slightly higher in rural areas than in the metros. Here are the figures from all Republican primaries:
Metropolitan counties: Trump received 44.8 percent of all votes in the Republican primaries.
Micropolitan counties: Trump received 45.5 percent of all Republican votes. (These are counties outside of metro regions that have towns between 10,000 and 50,000 people.)
Rural counties: Trump received 48 percent of all Republican votes.
So this is the Trump rural advantage: Less than a single point in micropolitan counties over urban counties and only 3.3 percentage points more than the cities in the nation’s most rural counties.
The difference is next to nothing in real votes. If Trump had received the same percentage of Republican primary votes in rural America as he received in metro counties, his vote total would have dropped by a piddling 100,000 votes, out of nearly 14 million votes cast. He’d still be the nominee.
The slightly higher levels of support Trump enjoyed in rural areas increased the candidate’s primary vote total by less than one percentage point.
You may be celebrating Trump’s candidacy or abhorring the man. But rest assured that it wasn’t rural America that brought him to prominence. Trump is where he is today because of voters in L.A., Phoenix, New York, Fort Worth, West Palm Beach, Seattle, Chicago and any number of counties Trump swept in metropolitan New York City.
You don’t have to go to West Virginia to find the “heart of Trump Country.” Trump voters are a lot closer to home.