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Discussing @tkc1101’s prodigious prognosticating abilities with regard to this election on a separate post I asked him if he thought that Trump’s victory was all do to a working class rural revolt or if perhaps he also benefited from urban apathy which saw a slackening of Obama’s Millennial/Minority vote? He could not say, and said he would wait for some further analysis. Curious about my own question I decided to quickly browse through the county results in Pennsylvania from 2012 and 2016. Based on a cursory analysis, my conclusions were that Hillary Clinton in PA did not actually under perform in urban areas as compared to Obama. Rather, her loss came from Trump over performing Mitt Romney in the more rural areas of PA and her under performing Obama in these same area. This indicated to me that for Pennsylvania at least based on a quick skim of the data Trump won because of a Rural Revolt.
With that bit of tantalizing information, I wondered what the results from Wisconsin and Michigan would look like on a by county basis. So, earlier this evening I sat down and decided to have a look. I have only had time to look at the data from Michigan in any detail so I will only be discussing those results. The question I asked was the same one posed for Pennsylvania: Rural Revolt or Urban Apathy?
To help answer this question I looked at the vote total from each county in Michigan from both 2012 and 2016, comparing Trump’s and Hillary’s performance to those of Romney and Obama (respectively). I also tabulated the the results for all third parties effectively treating them as one candidate and comparing their totals from 2012 to those in 2016.
Donald Trump is currently winning the State of Michigan by 11,837 votes (I believe votes are still being tabulated and have not yet been certified). Total voter turnout in 2016 was only about 60,000 to 70,000 more votes than in 2012.
Donald Trump over-performed Mitt Romney in all but seven of Michigan’s 83 counties, and those seven all tended to be suburban/urban counties based on their larger vote totals. It should be noted though that in Wayne County, which is the county for the City of Detroit, Trump actually over-performed Romney. Comparing 2012 to 2016, the general pattern for Michigan’s rural counties was that Trump’s gains over Romney were slightly less than Clinton’s losses compared to Obama, with third parties making up the difference, usually indicating a net gain of voters for the county. The obvious interpretation of this is that Hillary’s loss was more or less Trump’s gain, with also substantial gains for the Third Party tickets as a whole. In fact most counties gained in total votes cast compared to 2012, which is of course what you would expect, given that the vote total was higher overall.
Hillary Clinton under-performed Obama in all but 6 of 83 counties. Of these counties, four were also ones where Trump under-performed Romney. Trump’s worst county was Kent County which he still managed to win if more narrowly than Mitt Romney had done. Possibly indicating the effects of defecting Republicans. Another of these four of interest is Washtenaw, home of the University of Michigan. Here again, Clinton got a boost possibly indicating defections among Republicans to Hillary. It should be noted that the third parties did well in both of these counties compared to 2012.
Clinton’s problem in Michigan can be summed up in three counties: Wayne, Saginaw, and Genesee, all three of which Obama carried in 2012. She under-performed in all three while Trump over-performed Romney in each; the combination was enough to flip Saginaw from blue to red. Turn out was down in all these counties: In Wayne County alone, by about 40,000 votes compared to 2012. These are all urban/suburban counties, if I am not mistaken. And between them, you have a loss in total votes nearly five times greater than the margin of victory for Trump in the whole state. The lost votes appear to have all been Obama’s.
Third parties over-performed their 2012 totals spectacularly, leaping from 51,000 total votes in 2012 to around 240,000 in 2016. Jill Stein alone went from around 22,000 votes in 2012 to more than 50,000 in 2016. The difference in her performance alone was nearly three times Trump’s margin of victory. Gary Johnson was not on the ballot in 2012, but was a write-in candidate and then only garnered less than 7,774 votes; while in 2016 he got more than 20 times that vote total. Consistently, in every county, Stein and Johnson over-performed their 2012 results. Most notably, they did very well in counties where both Trump and Hillary under performed like Oakland County. They also showed strong gains in the three counties that saw an overall vote decrease compared to 2012 mentioned above.
The evidence of the Rural Revolt is there through all of the low population counties of Michigan, with Trump seemingly turning Democrats into Republicans. But based on all the data presented above, I think it was also necessary for Clinton to suffer from Urban Apathy, as she clearly did in Wayne and Genesee counties. Additionally, third parties’ strong showings probably sapped from Clinton’s votes; in the rural counties, the third party vote total often helped to make up the difference between Clinton’s loss and Trump’s gain, indicating that in these places she bled votes not only to Trump, but also to these other candidates. So, in Michigan the Rural Revolt primed Trump for victory: without it, he would not have narrowly overcome Hillary, but third parties and a significant under performance in urban areas delivered the win. So I would conclude that both Rural Revolt and Urban Apathy are responsible for Trump’s narrow win in Michigan.
Considering 2020, it is clear that Trump will need to keep his rural base, but even a modest improvement in urban turnout for Democrats can hand them a victory, unless Trump finds votes elsewhere. The catch will be what those 240,000 Third Party voters do. Of them we might guess that 50,000 are probably committed to their third party, leaving 90,000 potential voters for both Trump and his Democratic challenger. The question is whether Trump get enough of them to make up for what will surely be an increased urban voter turnout in Michigan in 2020. Also, is there potentially a new hidden vote of suburban Republicans who left their ballot blank for president in 2016, but who will come and vote for Trump in 2020 if he proves successful? Can they make up for the urban increase that should come?
I hope you all found this interesting. I certainly did. If you have questions about specific counties, I can share my results with you about them in the comments. I am also interested to hear from Michiganders about what they saw and think about this analysis. If I can I will do the same analysis with with Wisconsin too, and go and take a look at PA again more thoroughly. But writing this thing took quite a bit of time so it might be slow in coming.Published in