While it is likely that rural white voters will again vote for Donald Trump and the Republican party in 2020, analysis from the Catalist, a Democratic analytics firm, shows that support for Republican candidates dropped considerably between 2016 and 2018.
A detailed analysis of voting patterns comparing 2016 and 2018 showed that the largest shift toward Democrats came in rural areas despite more attention being paid to suburbs.
The overall gain in rural areas was 6% and was due more to voters changing their allegiances rather than Republican voters staying home. Democrats gained a little more than half of the ground they had lost in the rural counties over the previous decade. Democratic gains in the suburbs were a point or two lower. Democratic vote share increased from 30% to 35% for rural people who voted in both elections.
Among younger voters, the results were more promising for Democrats. In 2016, Trump won rural white voters under thirty by 58% to 27%. In 2018, Republican candidates won rural white voters under thirty by 58% to 40% in 2018. The third party vote was much smaller in 2018 and that benefitted Democratic candidates.
This group will swell by millions of voters by 2020, including those who turn 18, new immigrant citizens, and those who did not bother to vote in 2016.
Rural white voters between the ages of 30 to 44 gave Democrats only 23% of their vote in 2016, but that improved to 35% in 2018.
Of concern to even Democrats was the fact that, per a review of the data, there was less movement away from the GOP in states where Trump was most engaged last year, like Florida or Georgia. Trump will engage to the fullest everywhere during his reelection campaign, they say.
Whether the shift in the rural vote is the result of a return to more normal voting patterns, a drop in third party support, or decline in support for Trump, the closeness of the 2016 elections suggests that any drop in Trump’s base areas would result in his defeat.
By the time Donald Trump came around in 2016, many rural voters were desperate. He promised to bring back factory jobs. He promised to bring back coal-mining jobs. Sure, these were lies. But they were lies tailored to citizens in small towns that were getting smaller.