Will Rural Voters Make It Three in a Row for Republicans?

Where you live, how you vote.
Sept. 19 2008 8:28 AM

Will Rural Voters Make It Three in a Row for Republicans?

Rural and exurban voters made George Bush president—twice.

You can see that in the chart below. It simply counts the vote in rural, exurban, and urban counties and subtracts the John Kerry totals from the Bush totals. Kerry won the nation's metro areas by about 3.7 million votes. He lost rural counties by more than 4.1 million.



Kerry won nearly 52 percent in urban areas, where 73 percent of the voters lived in 2004. The Democrat failed to crack 40 percent in rural and exurban counties, which had 27 percent of the vote.

The same was true in 2000. Gore won the cities. He lost the countryside.

And that is why Barack Obama is spending quality time in places like Lebanon, Va. , and Grand Junction, Colo .

We'll know better Monday morning how rural voters are sizing up this election when we report the findings of a poll from 13 battleground states. At this point in the 2004 campaign, Bush was up over Kerry by 13 points in rural areas. Stay tuned here for this year's comparison.

Thirty years ago, there was no Republican advantage in rural America. In fact, the average population of a county that voted Democratic in the 1976 election (for Jimmy Carter) was slightly smaller than the average Republican county. Over the next two generations, however, people made choices about how and where they wanted to live. We sorted. Some people gravitated to cities. Others moved to where there was a bit more space. The two political parties came to represent people who had a kind of lifestyle that was represented in where they lived.

By the time this century rolled around, the differences were astounding. Political scientist Michael Harrington compared blue and red counties by their population density. In 2000, Gore counties, on average, had 739 people per square mile. In 2004, Kerry counties had 836 people per square mile. Bush counties averaged 108 people per square mile in 2000 and 110 four years later.

Again, we don't think people who voted Democratic moved to cities to be around other Democrats. There are some people who enjoy an urban lifestyle, and those ways of life line up with Democratic presidential candidates. People who headed the other direction tended to vote Republican.

At a party of Republicans in the exurban town of Savage, outside Minneapolis, a man talked to me about the "places you go [in the city] where there are a lot of gray, pasty-faced people. I like it here." One of Bush's campaign leaders in the county told me, "A lot of us are fed up with the urban lifestyle. I would not want to see my grandchildren raised in downtown Minneapolis in an environment that is different from the one out here. I want to split my own wood and be less dependent on government."

There you are. Two Americas, defined by the size of government, population density, and wood-splitting. And that difference is determining presidential elections.

"It is hard to overstate the historical significance of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections," writes Seth McKee , a young political scientist who has done the most work on the rural vote. "Despite the decline in the rural percentage of the American electorate, the rural vote has become more important because it is so decidedly Republican. Never before has the gap in presidential vote choice of rural and urban voters been so wide."

In May, we conducted a poll of rural voters in 13 battleground states. John McCain led Obama by 9 points. (McCain and Hillary Clinton were tied.) In May 2004, George Bush led John Kerry by 9 points. (These rural polls are conducted by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, with help from Republican consultant Bill Greener.)

Four years ago in September, George Bush was leading by 13 points with this key group. Monday, we'll have new results.

/blogs/bigsort/2008/09/19/will_rural_voters_make_it_three_in_a_row/jcr:content/body/slate_image

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The Ludicrous Claims Women Are Pitched at “Egg Freezing Parties”

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Behold
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 1:11 PM This Company Wants to Fight World Hunger With Flies 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 1:01 PM Can Activists Save Reyhaneh Jabbari?  
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 1:13 PM The Essence of Gender Roles in Action Movies, in One Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 12:01 PM Rocky Snow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.