Across the board, city, small town and rural voters made similar shifts from Democrat to Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections. Compared to the national elections in 2008 and 2012, metropolitan and nonmetropolitan votes for Republicans grew at about the same rate.
One exception was in Kentucky, where the Democratic Senate candidate who refused to say whether she voted for Obama did far worse among rural voters than the president did there in 2012.
Kentucky’s Allison Lundergan Grimes lost to incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell by about 15 points statewide. Among the state’s rural (noncore) voters, McConnell’s margin of victory was a whopping 34.5 points. Nearly three out of four voters in noncore counties voted for the Republican. (Noncore counties are nonmetro counties that don’t have a city of 10,000 or bigger.)
Like many Democratic candidates this season, Grimes kept her distance from Obama, even refusing to say whether she voted for him, though she was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
In a pattern repeated in other key Senate races, McConnell also won among Kentucky’s metro and micropolitan voters with smaller but no less definitive margins. (Micropolitan counties are ones outside a metro area that have a city of 10,000 residents or more.)
To see whether we could spot patterns in nonmetropolitan voter preferences from previous elections, we compared the results of key Senate races to the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012. Some states behaved remarkably similarly from year to year.
Here’s the information for Kentucky.
For example, Georgia’s Senate contest between victor David Perdue, a Republican, and Democrat Michelle Nunn is nearly a carbon copy of both the 2008 and 2012 presidential races. The chart shows the percentage of the vote received by the Republican candidate in each of those elections. Bear in mind that the 2008 and 2012 elections were presidential, while this year’s midterm is for the state’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
After six years and millions in campaign spending, the numbers remain virtually unchanged among all voters – metropolitan and nonmetropolitan.
Colorado had a little more motion, but not much. Republican challenger Cory Gardner defeated incumbent Democrat Mark Udall with majorities among metro, micro and rural (noncore) voters similar to those achieved by the Republican presidential candidates in 2008 (John McCain) and 2012 (Mitt Romney).
North Carolina bucked the trend a bit by shifting a little toward the Democratic candidate, compared to previous elections. But the change was not significant enough to change the results. Republican challenger Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan by a slim margin, just as Mitt Romney won the state in 2012.
Also, North Carolina was the only state in our small sample where the metro vote went for one candidate and the nonmetro vote went for the other. Democrat Hagan led among metropolitan voters, 48.5 to 47.9%. But Republican Tillis bested Hagan among micropolitan voters by 10.7 points and among rural voters by 7.8 points. Although the raw number of votes was smaller in these nonmetro areas, it was enough to put the challenger over the top in the final tally.
Things were a little different in Iowa. Republican Joni Ernst significantly improved GOP performance from the 2012 presidential election. While Republican Romney lost among metro and micropolitan voters in 2012, winning only among rural voters, Ernst swept all three categories of voters en route to her victory over Democrat Bruce Braley.
Data note: To conduct our comparison, we used the 2013 metro/nonmetro county definitions. Some counties changed their designations after the 2008 election.