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Are Rural Voters Elusive? Lately, Only For Democrats

At the tail end of the so-called "Roaring Twenties," just before the Republicans' Great Depression hit, the presidential election saw just 8 states got to Al Smith, the Democratic Party candidate, over Herbert Hoover, widely considered one of the worst presidents in history-- after Trump. Six were Solid South states Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina (still pissed off because the Republicans took away their slaves) and the other two: Massachusetts and Rhode Island, just wanted a Catholic president already.

Excluding the Solid South states, the most rural states in America are were extremely Republican in that election. Their ruralness in based on 2010 numbers:

  • Maine- 61.3% rural (31.0% Democrat, 1928)

  • Vermont- 61.1% rural (32.9% Democrat, 1928)

  • West Virginia- 51.3% rural (41.0% Democrat, 1928)

  • Montana- 44.1% rural (40.5% Democrat, 1928)

  • South Dakota- 43.4% rural (39.2% Democrat, 1928)

  • Kentucky- 41.6% rural (40.5% Democrat, 1928)

  • North Dakota-- 40.1% rural (44.5% Democrat, 1928)

And let me throw in half a dozen more states whose populations are more than a third rural:

  • Iowa- 40% rural (37.6% Democrat, 1928)

  • Wyoming- 35% rural (35.4% Democrat, 1928)

  • Alaska- 34% rural (not a state in 1928)

  • North Carolina- 34% rural (45.1% Democrat, 1928)

  • Oklahoma- 34% rural (35.4% Democrat, 1928)

  • Tennessee- 34% rural (46.0% Democrat, 1928)

What a difference a Great Depression can make. In 1932, FDR swept the big rural states, including, of course, all of the Solid South (again, not included below)

  • Maine- 43.2% Democrat, 1932; 41.5% Democratic in 1944

  • Vermont- 41.1% Democrat, 1932; 43.2% Democratic in 1944

  • West Virginia- 54.5% Democrat, 1932; 60.6% Democratic in 1944

  • Montana- 58.8% Democrat, 1932; 69.3% Democratic in 1936

  • South Dakota- 63.6% Democrat, 1932; 54.0% Democratic in 1936

  • Kentucky- 59.1% Democrat, 1932; 58.5% Democratic in 1936

  • North Dakota- 69.6% Democrat, 1932; 59.6% Democratic in 1936

  • Iowa- 57.7% Democrat, 1932; 54.4% Democratic in 1936

  • Wyoming- 56.1% Democrat, 1932; 60.6% Democratic in 1936

  • North Carolina- 69.9% Democrat, 1932; 73.4% Democratic in 1936

  • Oklahoma- 73.3% Democrat, 1932; 66.8% Democratic in 1936

  • Tennessee- 66.5% Democrat, 1932; 68.8% Democratic in 1936

Pretty amazing how even rural voters can swing when someone is offering them something to make their lives better. In recent years, though, rural voters have not been impressed with what Democrats are offering. Let's take those same states and see what percentage of the vote they gave Obama (2012) and Biden (2020). Again, Maine and Vermont are complete outliers.

  • Maine- 56.3% Democrat, 2012; 53.1% Democratic in 2020

  • Vermont- 66.6% Democrat, 2012; 66.1% Democratic in 2020

  • West Virginia- 35.5% Democrat, 2012; 29.7% Democratic in 2020

  • Montana- 41.7% Democrat, 2012; 40.5% Democratic in 2020

  • South Dakota- 44.1% Democrat, 2012; 35.6% Democratic in 2020

  • Kentucky- 37.8% Democrat, 2012; 36.1% Democratic in 2020

  • North Dakota- 38.7% Democrat, 2012; 31.8% Democratic in 2020

  • Iowa- 52.0% Democrat, 2012; 44.9% Democratic in 2020

  • Wyoming- 27.8% Democrat, 2012; 26.5% Democratic in 2020

  • Alaska- 40.8% Democrat, 2012; 42.8% Democratic in 2020

  • North Carolina- 48.3% Democrat, 2012; 48.6% Democratic in 2020

  • Oklahoma- 33.2% Democrat, 2012; 32.3% Democratic in 2020

  • Tennessee- 39.1% Democrat, 2012; 37.4% Democratic in 2020

Democrats haven't had anything to say-- get ya "rural broadband" here-- to rural white voters in a long time. And Democrats keep losing rural states, catastrophic in terms of the Senate, where Republicans are virtually guaranteed 2 senators each in small-population rural states like each Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas. That's 16 inexpensive senators already. Add that to the most racist states-- like Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas-- and the GOP is more than halfway to controlling the Senate with tiny populations and tiny efforts, which can then be expended in more swingy seats like Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin...

This morning, Astead Herndon and Shane Goldmacher wrote that "Youngkin not only won less populated areas by record margins-- he was outpacing Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties... but he also successfully rolled back Democratic gains in the bedroom communities outside Washington and Richmond, where many college-educated white voters had rejected Republicanism under Trump... Democrats have often focused their energy on swingy suburbs and voter-rich cities, content to mostly ignore many white, rural communities that lean conservative. The belief was, in part, that the party had already bottomed out there, especially during the Trump era, when Republicans had run up the numbers of white voters in rural areas to dizzying new heights. Virginia, however, is proof: It can get worse. In 2008, there were only four small Virginia counties where Republicans won 70 percent or more of the vote in that year’s presidential race. Nowhere was the party above 75 percent. This year, Youngkin was above 70 percent in 45 counties-- and he surpassed 80 percent in 15 of them. 'Look at some of those rural counties in Virginia as a wake-up call,' said Steve Bullock, the Democratic former governor of Montana who made a long-shot 2020 presidential run, partly on a message that his party needed to compete in more conservative parts of the country. 'Folks don’t feel like we’re offering them anything, or hearing or listening to them.'"

It's worth mentioning that Bullock, a Montana governor, failed presidential candidate and failed Senate candidate, quickly transition to a disgusting conservative whore, taking a job to lead attorney for the Sackler family' successful attempt to keep over a billion dollars in drug money they made by addicting most Trump voters to opioids. So... take what he has to say for what it's worth.

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.
Republicans have never had a demographic stronghold as reliable as Black voters have been for Democrats, a group that delivers as many as nine 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?
“It’s not sustainable for our party to continue to tank in small-town America,” said Representative Cheri Bustos, the Illinois congresswoman who led the House Democratic campaign arm in 2020.
“We’ve got a branding problem as Democrats in way too many parts of our country,” said Ms. Bustos, who is retiring from a downstate and heavily rural Illinois seat that Mr. Trump carried twice. She called it “political malpractice” and “disrespectful to think it’s OK to run up the score in big cities and just neglect the smaller towns.”
There is no easy solution.
Many of the ideas and issues that animate the Democratic base can be off-putting in small towns or untethered to rural life. Voters in Bath County, many of whom are avid hunters and conservative evangelicals, have long opposed liberal stances on gun rights and abortions. Some Democrats urge the party to just show up more. Some believe liberal ideas can gain traction, such as universal health care and free community college. Others urge a refocus on kitchen-table economics like jobs programs and rural broadband to improve connectivity. But it is not clear how open voters are to even listening.
Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat who flipped a Republican-held seat outside Minneapolis in 2018, said that when it comes to issues that concern rural America, his party is afflicted with a “disease of disinterest.”
He especially lamented how his party’s strategists routinely tell candidates “to fish where the Democratic fish are instead of taking that canoe out a little further out on the lake.”
“For a party that predicates itself on inclusivity,” he added, “I’m afraid we’re acting awfully exclusive.”
Mr. Phillips called for Democrats to include “geographic equity” in their agenda along with racial and economic equity, noting that he is a proud member of the state’s Democratic Party, which is formally known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “I’m a D.F.L.-er and yet the F’s and the L’ers aren’t voting for us,” he said.
The rural share of the vote in America has been steadily shrinking, but remains sizable enough to be politically potent. National exit polling in 2020 estimated that one in five voters lived in rural or small-town America. The Democratic data firm TargetSmart, which categorized voters based on population density, labeled 30 percent of the electorate as rural.
...[T]he politically urgent problem for Democrats is that rural America has moved faster and further from them in the last 20 years than urban America has moved away from Republicans. From 1999 to 2019, cities swung 14 percentage points toward the Democrats, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center report. At the same time, rural areas shifted by 19 percentage points toward the Republicans. The suburbs remained essentially tied.
Amanda Litman, the executive director of Run for Something, which looks for Democrats to run for local offices nationwide, said it could be challenging to recruit candidates in deep red small towns-- and to lure money into what are most likely losing causes.
“We just have to try and lose by less,” she said. “And ‘investing to lose by less’ is not a fun sell to Democratic donors. But it is what it is.”
...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,” Mr. 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.”

Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio is running for Congress in one of the country's most productive agricultural areas, California's Central Valley. This afternoon, he told that when he thinks of rural voters in the Central Valley, he thinks of "constituents who have been so dismayed by the Democratic Party that they would vote for Democrat Biden for president and then Republican Valadao for Congress. In CA-21, Biden won by 11% and Valadao won by less than 1% in 2020. And it’s a pattern that’s repeated itself-- voters electing Obama/Valadao in 2012 and Clinton/Valadao in 2016. At the end of the day, Valadao’s political messaging has successfully led people to believe he’s a fighter for the valley, when he’s actually voting to take away healthcare, to prevent Americans from receiving stimulus checks, and to ignore the climate crisis. Come election time, he’ll reap the benefits of successful policy advocacy from Democrats from elsewhere in the country, while avoiding the disastrous consequences of his party’s policies. There’s an extra layer of outreach that Democrats must do in campaigning but also in practice, to show rural voters they actually do care about the inequities in access to quality healthcare, clean drinking water, and safer infrastructure. The strategy can’t be to use the same talking points a self-proclaimed bi-partisan Republican will use while just adding “and he supported Trump!” We have to present transformational policies to voters in rural areas like single payer healthcare, expansive social programs, water quality protections that hold agricultural polluters accountable, phase out of fossil fuels in people’s backyards, free college, and many more people-first ideas. If the best answer is to fight a vulnerable Republican with a stronger corporate Democrat, then we’ll continue showing rural voters that the Democratic Party values short-term solutions to the issues impacting them everyday."

Tom Nelson is serving as Outagamie County Executive and is running for the Wisconsin Senate seat held by Trumpist Ron Johnson. "Elections," he told me today, "are about people. Re-elections are about delivering on promises. There is nothing different from a voter in MIlwaukee and a voter in Tigerton. They each want good schools for their kids, paved roads for their trucks and Prius's and access to quality health care when they're sick. We have exactly one year to deliver on Build Back Better and that means getting a good bill passed and going to every corner of this country and preaching the Gospel. The Democratic difference means good roads, good schools, clean environment, quality health care, safe streets. It also means holding corporate America to account and making them pay their fair share in taxes. I am confident that if we do it right, we can bridge red and blue America and we can build a majority."

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