A New York City billionaire and a New York City-born self-described “democratic socialist” were the favorites of rural voters in Wisconsin’s presidential primary Tuesday.
Developer Donald Trump lost to Texas Senator Ted Cruz on the Republican side of the Wisconsin ballot because he fell almost 20 percentage points behind in the state’s metropolitan areas. But his share of the vote rose as the returns moved farther from metropolitan counties. In the most rural parts of Wisconsin, Trump beat Cruz by 10 percentage points.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (the Democrat who campaigns as a democratic socialist) won across the board in Wisconsin over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ percentages in rural counties and small towns, however, were higher than in the cities. In micropolitan counties (counties with towns between 10,000 and 50,000 people), Sanders won 60 percent of the vote.
Turnout in the Democratic primary was lower this year than in 2008, but it dropped more in rural and micropolitan counties. Turnout in cities this year was 92 percent of the 2008 vote. In rural and micropolitan counties, turnout in 2016 was 83 percent of 2008.
Senator Cruz won handily in the suburbs around Milwaukee. In Waukesha County, one of the most Republican-leaning counties in the country, Cruz won 61 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 22 percent.
Ohio Governor John Kasich won 15.1 percent of the vote in urban counties, but saw that small share shrink in rural and micropolitan counties. In rural counties, Kasich won only 10.7 percent of the vote. This has been a consistent trend in the Republican primaries: Kasich’s share drops outside metro areas.
In the 2012 presidential race between Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, there was less than a 5 percentage point difference between the rural and urban vote. In the most rural counties, Obama won with 49.6 percent of the vote. In metro counties, he won 54.1 percent.
Three out of four votes in Wisconsin in 2012 came from metropolitan counties.
In the 2008 Democratic primary, which Obama won easily over Clinton, Clinton did better in rural counties than she did in the cities. In this election, she did worse in rural areas.
Clinton won only three counties this year – Milwaukee, plus two rural counties on the west side of the state, Polk and Buffalo.
Cruz won 17 of 26 metropolitan Wisconsin counties. Cruz and Trump split the state’s 14 micropolitan counties evenly. Trump won all but three of the state’s rural counties: Door, the peninsula that forms part of Green Bay in Lake Michigan; plus Green Lake and Waupaca counties, in the central part of the state.
How this story defines rural. This story uses the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) system to define cities, small cities, and rural areas. Metropolitan areas (called “cities” in our charts) are counties that have a city of 50,000 or more. Metropolitan areas also include the surrounding counties (no matter what size their population is) if the counties have strong economic ties to the central metropolitan area. Small cities (micropolitan areas) are outside an MSA and have a city of 10,000 or more residents. Rural areas (noncore) are counties that are not part of an MSA and do not have a city of 10,000 or greater. There’s more (lots more!) on this topic over at the USDA Economic Research Service website.