The Electoral Problem is Rural

Just prior to the election, I told you that the students at my child’s suburban Philaldelphia elementary school in Chester County, Pennsylvania had voted for Clinton by a healthy 64%-34% margin. When their parents showed up to vote at the school, they also chose Clinton, albeit by a more modest 52.4%-40.4% clip.

I want to put this precinct is some perspective. Four years ago, it went for Mitt Romney 51.6%-47.4%.

In Pennsylvania, we have the option to vote the “Straight Party” line, and more people chose to do that for the Republicans (781) than the Democrats (747). Senator Pat Toomey got more votes here (1587) than his challenger Katie McGinty (1531). The Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives won by 305 votes. On the state level, the Republican candidates for the Attorney General, State Auditor, and the House of Representatives all won. Other than Clinton, the only Democrats who carried the precinct were Joe Torsella for State Treasurer (who won by seven votes) and our popular incumbent State Senator Andrew Dinniman who won by 303 votes.

On the surface, this is some impressive ticket-splitting. But the most impressive thing is that Clinton carried the precinct by 443 votes. Only our incumbent Republican state Rep. Duane Milne had a bigger margin (almost 600 votes).

Now, here are the county wide numbers from this year and from four years ago.

HILLARY CLINTON (DEM) 140,188 51.77
DONALD J TRUMP (REP) 115,582 42.69

MITT ROMNEY (GOP) 124,840 49.43
BARACK OBAMA (DEM) 124,311 49.22

As you can see, about 6,000 more voters participated in the election this year than four years ago. If you’re wondering, turnout was higher this year (76.90%) than four years ago (74.89), too.

Hillary Clinton not only flipped Chester County from Republican to Democrat, but she boosted turnout, got 16,000 more votes than Obama did in his reelection bid, and netted almost 25,000 votes overall.

Here are the results for the four Philly collar suburban counties from this year and four years ago:

DELAWARE COUNTY: Clinton +63,000, Obama +61,000
MONTGOMERY COUNTY: Clinton +91,000 Obama +58,000
BUCKS COUNTY: Clinton +2,000, Obama +3,500
CHESTER COUNTY: Clinton +25,000, Obama -1,000

Keep all of this in mind when you read Eric Sasson blaming white college-educated voters for being equally or more responsible for electing Donald Trump than rural white voters. But also keep it in mind when people second guess Clinton’s strategy. She didn’t just win the Philly suburbs.

In Philadelphia County, she netted 455,000 votes compared to Obama’s 462,000, and in Allegheny County she netted 106,000 votes compared to Obama’s 89,000. In other words, in Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities she netted 10,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012. And Obama carried the state 52.0%-46-8% by about 300,000 votes. Clinton lost the state by 68,000.

It’s not rocket science to figure this out. Clinton got more votes out of the cities and more votes out of the suburbs (where turnout was actually up) and she still turned a 300,000 cushion into a nearly 70,000 vote defeat. What happened is that where Obama lost the smaller more rural counties in the 70-30 range, Clinton lost them in closer to an 80-20 range. And if you spread that out across the commonwealth’s 67 counties, it swamped the Democrats and cost them both the state’s 20 Electoral College votes but what should have been a pickup of a U.S. Senate seat.

For Clinton, and most observers, it wasn’t thought possible that she could lose if she not only netted her votes out of the cities but did better than Obama in the suburbs. It made perfect sense for her to stay focused on urban turnout and persuasion in the suburbs and she undoubtedly met all her benchmarks.

Now, Pennsylvania is unique in some ways and it can’t be perfectly compared to any other state, but this general phenomenon can be observed in Florida and in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, too.

What happened here wasn’t a general failure to persuade white professionals in the suburbs or to mobilize the targeted cities in key swing states. It was a collapse of Democratic support in areas that were already voting heavily against the Democrats by unhealthy percentages.

People will want to go over these results with a fine-toothed comb, and I await that analysis, but the collapse of the Democrats in these rural counties isn’t tolerable if the left ever wants to control the House of Representatives or the state legislatures in most of the country. I know people are angry that these voters were willing to overlook or even actively support Trump’s racist idiotic campaign, but the Democrats will need to do better than winning 20% in these areas. It’s likely that the suburbs will continue to move away from the Trumpian Republican Party and that may solve the Electoral College problem. It won’t solve the other problems, though.

Unfortunately, this can’t be swept under the rug. And the Democrats cannot afford to make this political behavior become habitual and culturally ingrained in the North as it already is in the South.

Progressives need programs, strategies and organizing in these communities. And they need it now.

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