Donald Trump’s path to the White House ran through rural America, but it didn’t stop there.
Our first look at preliminary voting data shows that, in three critical states (North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan), Trump put together his upset victory by winning in all but the largest metropolitan areas.
In North Carolina, Trump won everywhere except in major metro areas of 1 million residents and up. And in those larger metropolitan areas, primarily the Charlotte and Raleigh regions, Trump stayed within 2 points of the Democratic candidate. That’s about on par with how major-metropolitan residents voted in the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney won North Carolina over Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton could not best Trump in the state’s remaining metro areas (those smaller than 1 million residents). And she lost by even wider margins in nonmetropolitan areas. She fell to Trump by about 175,000 votes statewide, which came to about a 2 point gap in the two-way race. (Third-party candidates are not part of this preliminary analysis because of data access issues.)
When we split the vote into our usual three types of counties (metropolitan counties, micropolitan and rural), we see that Trump won by wide margins outside metro areas, picking up about two thirds of the votes there (see the chart up top). That’s significantly better than Romney performed with rural voters in 2012.
(Metropolitan areas are counties with a city of 50,000 residents and up, or counties adjacent to such a county with strong economic ties to the metro county. Micropolitan counties are market areas with a core city of 10,000 to 49,999 residents. Rural or “noncore” counties are outside a metro or micro area and have no city of greater than 10,000 residents.)
Pennsylvania tells a similar story. There, Trump won comfortably in all categories of counties except ones in major metropolitan areas of 1 million residents or more – places like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In those major metro counties, he stayed within 3 points of Clinton and quickly made up that gap in the rest of the state. Trump bested Romney’s 2012 performance everywhere except the biggest metro areas.
Clinton won Pennsylvania’s metro areas of 1 million residents and up with 59% of the vote in the two-way race. But she got fewer votes there than her Democratic counterpart, Barack Obama, did in 2012. Trump quickly made up the difference in medium-sized metro areas, small cities, and rural areas.
When we look at the Pennsylvania votes divided into metropolitan, micropolitan (small cities) and rural (noncore), Trump performed better than the Republican candidate did in 2012 in every category. He polled especially strong in small cities, where he won 70% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 2012 tally of 61%.
The story in Michigan was a bit different. There, Trump seized a razor-thin surprise victory primarily because of lighter turnout. Clinton received 325,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012 – more than enough to have bested Trump’s lead, which was under 15,000 votes on Wednesday afternoon.
Nearly half of Clinton’s turnout deficit from 2012 occurred in the state’s largest metropolitan areas, which include Detroit.
In Michigan, Clinton did improve her metropolitan performance compared to Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Besides winning in the state’s biggest metro areas, she also won in metro areas of 250,000 to less than 1 million.