What really happened in the election

Love this FB post from Political Scientist Matthew Gunning.  It’s based on actual election returns, not just exit polls.  I’m sure there will be more sophisticated and thorough analyses along these lines in time, but for now, this is really good:

Thanks to Rob‘s tip I was able to download all county level returns. I sorted out the counties in Census designated Urbanized Areas with at least a quarter of a million population (2010). This allowed me to look at the results for big cities (Metro America) and Rural America (rural +smaller metros).

1) Metro American actually voted slightly more Democratic than in 2012 both in terms of the share of the vote and the total number of Democratic votes cast. In 2012 Democrats won Metro America 55%-44% and in 2016 they won it 54%-41%. The Democratic margin increased from 11% to 13%. Republicans won almost exactly the same number of votes but their share fell as Democrats added 2 million more voters. I think that the speculation about disenchanted Democrats not turning out is looking unsubstantiated based on these aggregate numbers. It also looks like most of those Republicans who said they weren’t voting for Trump came back to the GOP. It was almost a carbon copy of the 2012 election here.

2) In Rural America Republicans increased both their vote share and their votes cast. Republicans gained 2.3 million more votes in Rural America and Democrats lost 1.9 million votes there. In 2012 Republicans carried Rural America 56%-42% but in 2016 they won it by a landslide margin 59%-36%. Democrats lost Rural America in 2012 but they didn’t get crushed there and that was the difference. Democrats lost ~2 million and Republicans gained more than 2 million. Where these Obama voters who switched? Or was this a case of 2 million discouraged Democrats staying home and 2.3 lapsed voters showing up and voting Republican? We really need someone to go through a rural county voter file to get answers. YouGov suggested it was 85% lapsed voters but I regard this as something to be confirmed.

3) Bottom line is that if you lived in Metro America 2016 shaped up almost identical to 2012. What surprises me most about that is that Romney was a much more qualified candidate than Trump and yet Trump matched Romney’s performance. There was essentially no penalty in Metro America for breaking norms and other things that voters supposedly cared about. When we look at Rural America we see a dramatic shift from 4 years earlier. Honestly anyone who fails to focus on the shift in rural and small metro America isn’t looking carefully at the data. It’s very clear where the electoral shift took place. [emphasis mine]

And, I would add, fair to say that identity politics vs. economic politics has mattered the most in rural and small metro America.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

6 Responses to What really happened in the election

  1. ohwilleke says:

    Metro areas of 250,000+ people still leave a lot of places that can’t fairly be characterized a rural in the mix. I’d be interested in a more detailed breakdown of “Rural America”.

  2. Stefan says:

    I think that the “rural” vs. “urban” split is better viewed as a debate over American identity, as Samuel Huntington noted in “Who Are We?”–the cosmopolitan view of America vs. the nationalist view of America. This is a more comprehensive conception of the different views of American identity, which Trump tapped into with his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

  3. Mike in Chapel Hill says:

    I wonder if the data are available to compare county-level support for mandatory motorcycle helmet laws and vote for Trump. I have many relatives in the midwest who hate being told by the government that they must wear helmets, even though they agree that people ought to wear them. They really hate the nanny state telling them what is best for them to eat, wear, and behave.

  4. rgbact says:

    #3 is somewhat true….although it seems very state specific. Trump did suffer in metro areas of say Georgia and Texas and even Virgina.. But for some reason….that didn’t happen in the upper Midwest..

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