My friend who reads the New York Times alerted me to this article about rural America’s continued movement away from the Democratic party. I’m glad he did. The article is well worth reading.
The most noteworthy thing about the Times’ piece is the numbers it presents from Virginia:
In 2008, there were only four small Virginia counties where Republicans won 70% or more of the vote in that year’s presidential race. Nowhere was the party above 75%. This year, Youngkin was above 70% in 45 counties — and he surpassed 80% in 15 of them.
Virginia has 95 counties. The Times doesn’t say how many of them are rural, but judging from the breakdown in this map it looks Youngkin was above 70 percent in just about all of them.
The Times notes that Youngkin “was outpacing former President Donald Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties.” So I guess the GOP doesn’t need Trump to win big in rural America. It just needs Trump’s team not to discourage people in rural areas from voting with frivolous claims that their vote won’t be counted due to rigged voting machines (or some such nonsense).
The Times also notes that Youngkin did well among suburban voters in Virginia. Thus:
The twin results raise a foreboding possibility for Democrats: that the party had simply leased the suburbs in the Trump era, while Republicans may have bought and now own even more of rural America.
Here’s another “foreboding possibility.” GOP support among rural voters may be approaching Democrat support among African-Americans, or at least African-American males. The Times puts it this way:
Republicans have never had a demographic stronghold as reliable as Black voters have been for Democrats, a group that delivers as many as 9 out of 10 votes for the party. But some Democratic leaders are now sounding the alarm: What if rural, white voters — of which there are many — start voting that reliably Republican?
If the Virginia election is a reliable guide, the GOP share of the rural vote may be approaching 80 percent. In 2020, around 20 percent of African-American men (but only around 9 percent of African-American women) voted for Donald Trump.
Blacks make up around 11 percent of the electorate according to this report. According to the Times’ story, rural Americans make up between 20 and 30 percent of the electorate, depending on how one calculates it:
National exit polling in 2020 estimated that 1 in 5 voters lived in rural or small-town America. Categorizing voters based on population density, the Democratic data firm TargetSmart labeled 30% of the electorate as rural.
Can Democrats reverse their slippage in rural America? The Times isn’t optimistic:
Ben Tribbett, a Democratic strategist in Virginia, has watched his party’s vote share in rural areas wither for three decades. “I don’t know what our message is there,” Tribbett said. “Which is a problem, because I’m supposed to be creating content for political campaigns.”
Just how much further can the party fall? “In rural America, the bottom for the Democratic Party is zero,” said Ethan Winter, a senior analyst at the group Data for Progress, who studies voter behavior. “I am serious about this.”
In the past, rural, white voters in the North had historic ties to the labor movement and an affinity for the Democratic Party. Increasingly, Winter said, those voters are more akin culturally to their neighbors to the South than to their local cities and suburbs.
Tom Bonier, one of the Democratic Party’s leading experts on voter data and CEO of TargetSmart, agreed. “You look at places in the Deep South where the white, rural vote is approaching 90% Republican,” he said. “That’s absolutely the concern.”
Dan Balz at the Washington Post doesn’t see much hope for a Democratic recovery in rural America, either. His latest article is called (in the paper edition), “Democrats lack solutions to bring back rural voters.”
The urban-rural divide is real and has gotten wider. Democrats have seen their future as one that runs through urban and suburban America, with a coalition that is increasingly diverse, younger and more liberal. What appeals to that rising Democratic Party, however, doesn’t necessarily resonate with rural voters and sometimes drives them away. That’s the conundrum for the party as it considers how to mend its rural deficiencies. . . .
Over the years, Democrats have lamented this trend and have suggested that they should be doing better because their policies offer more economic support to rural voters than do those of the Republicans. Some have claimed that people in rural areas are voting against their own interests by supporting the trickle-down economic policies of the GOP. [Note: This is the patronizing “What’s the matter with Kansas” line.] To that, Democrats from rural states have said it’s presumptuous for any politician to tell voters what their own interests are or should be. . . .
Various issues divide urban and rural voters, from views on guns or abortion to religion and race. “This is more cultural that’s at play and identity politics that’s at play than economic policies,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who represents a largely rural district and who is stepping down next year. “And I think Democrats develop a blind spot to that and not being more sensitive to some of those cultural issues.”
It’s not really a blind spot, though. Democrats want to transform America significantly, and many of them radically. Rural America doesn’t want a major transformation and, I suspect, takes demands for such a transformation personally (especially attacks on “whiteness,” demands that religion take a backseat to various woke causes, and calls for ever more gun control).
If Democrats want to make major inroads in rural America, they may have to transform themselves radically. I don’t see that happening.