Rural Margins Diverge in Republican, Democratic Gubernatorial Wins

In states where Republicans won close governors’ races, rural GOP support was a big part of the pattern. The Democrats who won gubernatorial races in Wisconsin and Kansas made rural more of a contest and protected their metropolitan advantages.


The Republican candidates who appear to have won squeaker gubernatorial contests in Georgia and Florida blew the doors off their Democratic opponents in rural counties.

On the other hand, Democrats who won close governor races in Wisconsin and Kansas kept the rural vote more competitive.

In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp beat Democrat Stacy Abrams by only 60,000 votes (about 1.5% of the statewide vote). But Kemp won nonmetropolitan voters by 40 points, amassing a 260,000-vote advantage in the least populated parts of the state. Kemp also clobbered Abrams by a similar margin in the suburban counties of medium-sized metros.

Nearly half of Georgia’s electorate lives in the sprawling suburban counties surrounding Atlanta. In these counties, Republican Kemp kept the race close, losing by just 3 points. That showing meant that Kemp’s advantage in the suburbs of medium-sized metros, small metros, and rural areas was enough to put him on top in the current tally.

Though Kemp has declared victory, Abrams has yet to concede and is looking at her legal options to challenge the decision. (Kemp is currently Georgia’s secretary of state, the official in charge of election process.)

In Florida (see graph at the top of the page), Republican Ron DeSantis kept Democrat Andrew Gillum from running up big leads in major metropolitan areas. That meant DeSantis’ advantage in medium-sized metros, small metros, and rural areas was large enough to put him over the top. Democrat Gillum won only in counties that are part of major metropolitan areas – ones with populations of a million or more.

The performance of Democratic candidates in Wisconsin and Kansas looked quite different than the races in Florida and Georgia. In Wisconsin (see graph at the top of the page), Democrat Tony Evers beat incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker 2 to 1 in the core counties of major metro areas. Evers also won medium-sized metropolitan areas. Although Republican Walker managed to win a solid lead in the small metros and rural areas, his performance lacked the sharp rise in popularity as counties became more rural.

The Kansas gubernatorial contest also lacked the characteristic Republican rise in popularity among rural voters. Democrat Laura Kelly won major metropolitan counties (both core and suburban), the suburbs of medium-sized metropolitan areas, and the rural counties located farthest from metropolitan areas.