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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Showing Up in Rural America

In Defying the Odds, we talk about the social and economic divides that enabled Trump to enter the White House. In Divided We Stand, we discuss how these divides played out in 2020.  

Jeff Bloodworth at The Liberal Patriot:

“Polarization is a by-product of Democrats. They don’t even try to compete in rural America.” Matt Barron should know. The principal at MLB Research Associates specializes in rural Democratic politics—and he sees a party that has quit rural America. The political consequences of this development are as obvious as they are profound.

The rural vote is where MAGA predominates. Donald Trump took 65 percent of the rural vote in 2020, up from 59 percent in 2016. Among rural whites, the Republican took an eye-popping 71 percent of the vote in 2020, a nine-point improvement over 2016. Around one fifth of Americans live in rural environs and small towns, but the GOP’s monopoly automatically puts around two dozen states with significant rural populations out of reach—and Democrats don’t even bother to compete for them.
The Democrats’ deep woes in rural America are recent. Historically, the party of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson was built upon rural America. By the 1930s, FDR successfully brought the urban working class and rural Americans together to make the Democrats into a dominant majority party. As recently as 1980, rural voters helped Democrats control nearly twice as many state legislatures as Republicans. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton took a bit more than half the rural vote. Heck, 43 percent of rural voters cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008.

Obama never hoped to win the rural vote outright. But by reducing his margin of defeat in rural regions, he won key states and an electoral mandate. The first black major-party candidate performed three points better than John Kerry in 2004 in rural areas and won nine points more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. In retrospect, however, 2008 proved a strange inflection point. A rural Democratic state legislator complained to me, “The Obama people showed-up [in 2008] and then they left—there was no follow-up. Voters felt abandoned.”

Leading the way was Obama himself. In his first year in office, the president traveled to domestic events 43 times. Out of these 43 trips, he went to rural America just once. In conjunction with this was the substance of Obama’s agenda. Multiple analysts complained that Democrats have turned their backs on local issues; all politics became national because Democrats were mostly uninterested in knowing these local issues and campaigning on them. The political fallout was impossible to miss. During the Obama presidency, Democrats lost 13 Senate and 69 House seats, 11 governorships, 913 state legislative seats, and 30 state legislative chambers, according to analysis from The Washington Post. The overwhelming majority of these losses came because of the party’s weakness with rural voters.