Fast Takes: The Rural Voter Myth that Won’t Go Away

Rural voters broke big for Donald Trump, but his campaign got over the finish line with metro voters. His coalition was notable for its “ordinariness,” not its “pathologies.” Here’s a roundup of election news related to rural people and issues.

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The description of Trump voters by our friends of the liberal persuasion is often a compilation of pathologies. Trump voters are a concoction of those left behind by the economy, fearful of immigrants, racists and the uneducated.

Henry Olsen, writing in The Guardian, has another take. Trump voters are Republicans, he writes, 80 percent of whom voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

“The sheer ordinariness of Trump’s coalition is impossible to overstate,” Olsen writes

Trump voters aren’t united by racism or sexism, Olsen concludes. They are united by being Republicans.

And Trump won because he took such a large percentage of the 18 percent of the American electorate who did not like either candidate. And these people were not particularly rural, Olsen writes, but “tended to be suburban, college-educated, Republican-leaning men.”

How is this group leaning these days? Those who don’t much like either party are going Democratic, according to a report by NBC News.

“What’s more in our current poll, these voters disproportionately are down on Trump (68 percent disapprove of his job, versus 52 percent of all voters), and they are enthusiastic about the upcoming midterms (63 percent of them have high interest, versus 55 percent of all voters who say this),” NBC reports.

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Steve Bullock

The next chair of the National Governors Association is Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Bullock is a Democrat, and he is raising the issue of job stagnation in rural America, The Hill reports.

Moody’s Investors Service noted this week that there are fewer jobs in rural counties today than a decade ago, before the latest “great recession.” Bullock is promoting a “Good Jobs for All Americans” initiative to highlight this disparity.

“Every single governor around the country faces a paradox. What we hear from employers time and time again is that one of their biggest challenges is having a trained workforce,” Bullock told The Hill.  “We’re trying to make sure we’re spreading out the success and opportunity throughout the country.”

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In the same article in The Hill, the Washington, D.C., publication returns to an old story for Daily Yonder readers: whether or not rural voters were the cause of the Republican triumph in 2016.

The Hill concludes that Trump and Republicans in general won two years ago because rural voters left the party, and that “exodus cost Democrats in states like Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, all states Barack Obama won twice, but that flipped to President Trump in 2016.”

We feel like we’ve been through this a gillion times, but let’s try once more. Yes, rural voters shifted Republican in 2016, but that change wasn’t the reason for Trump’s victory in those states.

We rechecked the numbers for two of the states mentioned by The Hill, Ohio and Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, the Democratic vote total was down 238,000 from 2012 to 2016. Most of that decline (61%) came in metro areas.

In Ohio, it was much the same story. Clinton’s totals were 297,000 votes less than Obama’s in 2012 – and six out of 10 of those missing votes came from metro areas.

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Along those lines, Sarah Smarsh points out in a New York Times op/ed that Trump’s margins in swing states didn’t rest entirely on the shoulders of the white working class. So “blaming” the working class for Trump’s election omits the fact that a lot of middle-class, educated whites also supported Trump:

Much has been made of the white working class’s political shift to the right. But Mr. Trump won among white college graduates, too. According to those same exit polls trotted out to blame the “uneducated,” 49 percent of whites with degrees picked Mr. Trump, while 45 percent picked Hillary Clinton (among them, support for Mr. Trump was stronger among men).Such Americans hardly “vote against their own best interest.” Media coverage suggests that economically distressed whiteness elected Mr. Trump, when in fact it was just plain whiteness.

The chart at the top of the page shows a complementary fact. Yes, rural America went large for Trump (the right side of the graph). But the place where Clinton really underperformed was large suburbs and medium-sized cities, where her 4 point margins were not large enough to counter Trump’s victories in medium-sized suburbs, small metros, and rural counties.

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Howard Berkes (Stephen Voss/NPR)

If politicians were looking for an issue that might resonate in the eastern coalfields, they might look at the latest report on black lung disease from National Public Radio’s Howard Berkes.

Berkes reports that the disease (incurable, fatal and caused by breathing coal dust) is increasing. In fact, the percentage of miners with the disease is the highest in 25 years.

“We haven’t seen this rate of black lung since before the early ’90s,” says Cara Halldin, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and one of the authors of the study Berkes cites.

The percentage of veteran miners with the most severe form of the disease is now the highest ever recorded.

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Could a billion dollars change election results in farm country?

The Des Moines Register reports that the growing trade war could cost farmers over $1 billion. Prices for U.S. soybeans have already dropped 20 percent since March – essentially wiping out all profit on the crop. Now Iowa politicians wonder how this will play in the November election.

The unanswered question of American politics this season is whether issues outweigh allegiance to political party. Do facts on the ground – markets busted by tariffs, for example – mean more to voters than their identity with a party or a person?

The ongoing collapse of the corn and soybean markets in the Midwest might provide us with an answer.

The Trump Administration apparently is worried enough about the possibilities of an adverse reaction at the voting booth that it is preparing plans to ship up to $12 billion to farmers in emergency aid. 

Bill Bishop is Daily Yonder contributing editor. Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder. Follow the Yonder on Twitter @dailyyonder

 

 
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