St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Missouri's urban-rural split on steroids

The urban/rural electoral split in Missouri got even wider in 2016.

I have written twice before about the widening urban-rural electoral split in Missouri. In 2004 my focus was putting the evangelical vote in historical context, but the upshot of that post was the contrast of the Democratic trend in St. Louis and Kansas City and their suburbs with the Republican trend in exurban and rural counties. The diverging directions of those areas resulted in a widening difference in their vote. I updated the post in 2012, noting that the intervening two presidential elections had continued the trend and widened the difference.

So, what would happen in 2016? Would Hillary Clinton's appeal (and Donald Trumps' repellent) to women everywhere and Trump's appeal to blue-collar voters put an end to that trend? In a word, no. In fact, Trump's appeal in exurban and rural areas not only continued the divergence, but sharply accelerated it. As I inferred in my post-election posts earlier this month, more of the undegreed blue-collar Democrats and Democratic leaning independents who defected to Trump live in rural and exurban areas than in urban and suburban areas.

Democrats performing better in urban/suburban areas than in exurban/rural areas in Missouri has been true for about a hundred years, but not by all that much. As recently as 1992, when Bill Clinton dispatched President George H.W. Bush, Clinton's performance in urban and suburban areas was just 9 points better than in rural areas. My prior posts linked above noted that this urban/rural split increased to 12 points in 1996, to 16 points in 2000, 21 in 2004, 23 in 2008 and 25 points in 2012. This year the split skyrocketed to 33 points. While the Democratic share of the vote dropped 2-1/2 points from 2012 in urban and suburban areas, it tanked by almost 9 points in rural counties.

The rural vote was a Tale of Two Clintons. In 1996, with many votes being diverted to third-party populist Ross Perot, President Bill Clinton won a healthy plurality in Missouri's rural counties, winning about 43% in those counties. Twenty years later his wife would win less than 25% there.

Trump's curious appeal to rural voters this year was foreshadowed by his rural success in the presidential primaries. But the continuation of the generation-long trend suggests that fundamental shifts in party identification are taking place.

The urban/rural split I have identified may actually be understated, because my county classifications have become outdated. My original 2004 post examined data starting in 1952. (See the original 2004 post to see data back to 1952.) For consistency purposes, my analysis continued to categorize counties the same way throughout the following 64-year period. But population changes since then have rendered some of my classifications obsolete. Some of the areas that I considered "exurban" then (e.g., St. Charles County outside St. Louis and Clay and Platte Counties north of Kansas City) are now behaving more like suburbs, and some counties that I considered "rural" (e.g., Lincoln and Warren Counties outside St. Louis) are now part of the St. Louis Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), with voting patterns that more closely resemble exurban counties than rural counties. Today, suburbs are more Democratic than exurban counties, which in turn are more Democratic than virtually all rural counties.

Moreover, the biggest rural county, Greene, has evolved into a combination of urban (Springfield, population 160,000, though just 4.1% African American and 3.7% Latino), suburban, college town (Missouri State and Drury) and exurban areas. Collectively those areas cause Greene County to be 12 points more Democratic than purely rural counties. In addition, eight rural counties containing college campuses run several points more Democratic than other rural counties. Reassigning all of these counties would make all three categories less Democratic, but the rural counties more than the others.

At the other end of the spectrum, the "urban" category has included the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City together with their inner-ring suburbs in St. Louis and Jackson Counties. I didn't segregate the city vote from the suburbs because election data before 1996 reported all of Jackson County (both Kansas City and its suburbs) together as one. Enough elections have now taken place since 1996 to provide a meaningful pattern and a more accurate comparison of rural with purely urban areas.

I have more number crunching to do, but these refinements are bound to produce even higher Democratic numbers in purely urban areas and even higher Republican numbers in purely rural counties, resulting in an even larger urban/rural split. More to come.


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