23 November 2016

More On Urban v. Rural Turnout In 2016

A county level data set shows urban America having about the same levels of support for Clinton and Trump respectively in turnout and partisan affiliation as for Obama and Romney, but rural and small town America shifted dramatically in favor of Trump and away from Clinton, relative to Romney and Obama respectively. 

There are also unconfirmed hints that a lot of this shift comes from discouraged rural Democrats and higher turnout among lapsed rural Republicans, rather than primarily from unaffiliated voters shifting their allegiances. 
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.
Regional Breakdowns: Metro America.
2012 Dem 61% Rep 36% 2016 Dem 59% Rep 38% Northeast Metro.
2012 Dem 55% Rep 43% 2016 Dem 52% Rep 42% Midwest Metro.
2012 Dem 49% Rep 50% 2016 Dem 49% Rep 47% South Metro.
2012 Dem 57% Rep 41% 2016 Dem 58% Rep 35% West Metro.
2012 Dem 55% Rep 44% 2016 Dem 54% Rep 41% USA Metro.

Note: In the South Metro areas Democrats did better mostly because Republicans lost 3% to minor parties.

Regional Breakdowns: Rural America.
2012 Dem 50% Rep 48% 2016 Dem 43% Rep 52% Northeast Rural.
2012 Dem 42% Rep 56% 2016 Dem 32% Rep 62% Midwest Rural.
2012 Dem 38% Rep 61% 2016 Dem 34% Rep 63% South Rural.
2012 Dem 44% Rep 53% 2016 Dem 40% Rep 52% West Rural.
2012 Dem 42% Rep 56% 2016 Dem 36% Rep 59% USA Rural.

Note: Rural South used to be an outlier, but rural Midwest voted almost identical in 2016.
Matthew Gunning on Facebook via Steve Greene (emphasis mine).

I would also be very interesting in seeing the breakdown, within "Rural America" between small cities on one hand, and truly rural and small town voters. Other data from Florida suggest that Trump made more gains with suburban voters than with truly rural voters, which gives the story a very different feel and meaning.

Another data point is how late deciding voters broke:
The polls were wrong, and now Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States. Everyone knows this. 
Except that's not the whole picture. Some of the polls were wrong to a degree, yes, but there was also something at work in the final days of the election: People who decided late broke strongly for Donald Trump in the states that mattered, according to exit polls. And without this apparent late surge, Hillary Clinton would be our president-elect — not Trump. 
In fact, if you look at the four closest states where Clinton lost — or, in the case of Michigan, where she's expected to lose — exit polls show late-deciding voters in each of them went strongly for Trump in the final days. In Florida and Pennsylvania, late-deciders favored Trump by 17 points. In Michigan, they went for Trump by 11 points. In Wisconsin, they broke for Trump by a whopping 29 points, 59-30.

And these weren't small groups of voters. The number of undecided and third-party-supporting voters who were still free agents in the final week was as many as 1 in 8 voters nationally -- an uncharacteristically high number for the eve of an election. (As Nate Silver noted, it was just 3 percent in 2012.)  
In Florida, 11 percent said they decided in the final week. In Pennsylvania, it was 15 percent. And in Michigan and Wisconsin — states where Trump made a late push — fully 20 percent of voters said they arrived at their choice in the last seven days. 
This isn't terribly surprising. As Philip Bump notes, we kind of saw it coming in the closing days of the campaign — particularly as backers of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson migrated to Trump.  
What caused these voters to decide so late and break even more for Trump? Could it have been WikiLeaks or James Comey? (We're skeptical.) Or maybe Trump running a more disciplined campaign down the stretch? Or maybe it was just undecided voters breaking for the opposition party, as they are reputed to do. It's not clear why, but it seems they broke solidly in Trump's direction.

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