Donald Trump’s massive victories in rural America in the 2016 election are part of a decade-long trend that has favored the GOP.
The president is hoping to further strengthen his advantage with this critical group ahead of a tough re-election fight in 2020, while Democrats are seeking to make inroads with these voters in places such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
While Democrats have increasingly relied on urban and suburban voters, they had greater success in rural areas in the not-so-distant past. In 2008, Barack Obama won nearly a quarter of non-metro counties.
But that number slipped in 2012, and Hillary Clinton managed to win only about 10% of those counties in 2016.
Rural voters were a crucial component of Trump’s base in 2016. The average margin of victory in non-metro counties won by the Republicans was around 30% in 2008 and 35% in 2012. In 2016, it was nearly 47%.
The average margin of victory in non-metro counties won by the Democrats has increased, but only marginally from around 18% in 2008 to around 25% in 2016.
Only around 9 percent of the non-metro counties voted for each of the Democratic nominees in the last three elections. By comparison, a little more than 75 percent of non-metro counties voted for the last three GOP nominees.
However, as Trump has performed well with rural voters, he has lost ground compared to past Republicans in the suburbs.
Democrats are hoping to chip away at Trump’s margins in rural America to deny him a path to victory in the Electoral College. But they will have to defy recent history to do so.
Democrats agree that even a very effective campaign outside the cities will only marginally reduce Trump’s support. But if they fail to make a real effort, their candidate will suffer the same fate as Clinton.