WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2016 - New American Community Survey data released by the Census Bureau last week shows why Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign could have concluded – erroneously, in retrospect – that she could have won without appealing to voters in rural areas and small towns.
With more than eight out of every 10 Americans now living in metropolitan areas and fewer than two in 10 who live rural areas, it may have made sense for any campaign to put its resources into the largest concentration of voters, even as it ignored a significant bloc.
President-elect Donald Trump got about two-thirds of the votes in rural counties and counties with cities under 50,000, performing several points higher than Republican nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012, says Tim Marema of the Center for Rural Strategies in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A stunning example comes from a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel analysis that found Trump won more than 500 Wisconsin towns and villages with a median population of less than 800 that voted for President Obama in 2012, nearly half of them by 20 percentage points or greater.
“One popular theory is that the results of the election came as such a surprise because media, pundits, and pollsters were in an information ‘bubble’ and unaware of the depth of discontent outside major cities,” Marema writes in the Daily Yonder. Although the Census reports do not shed light on Trump’s rural electoral popularity, Marema suggests that they may “create a leak, if not a burst, in the information bubble.”
Rural areas may have 97 percent of the nation’s land area but only 19.3 percent of its population, about 60 million people – a number that has remained remarkably steady over a century even as the national population has trebled – according to new Census data collected between 2011 and 2015 on more than 40 demographic topics, available on the Census Bureau website.
Last week’s report also underscores the fact that “rural” and “farm” are not synonymous. “The rural economy has diversified substantially since the mid-20th century,” it says. “Jobs in the agricultural sector are on the decline while jobs in manufacturing, retail sales and educational services are on the rise.” In the 704 counties (there are 3,142 counties in the U.S.) in which 100 percent of the population lives in a rural area, the economy is diverse and not necessarily dependent on farming.
The largest share of the civilian workforce in the most rural counties (22.3 percent) is employed in education, health care and social assistance. Another 10.9 percent is in the retail trade, while less than 10 percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and forestry. A higher share of rural jobs is in manufacturing; 12.1 percent of the rural civilian workforce is in this industry, performing duties as assemblers and fabricators, production workers and managers.
The report says, “Employment by industry also varies in size and by region. Landscape, access to natural resources and availability of labor may shape the geography of rural industries and employment. Manufacturing is less prominent in rural counties in the West compared with rural counties in the Midwest, South and Northeast. In contrast, a larger percentage of the civilian workforce in rural counties in the Midwest and West is employed in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and mining industry compared with those in the Northeast and the South.”
Adults in rural areas are older, with a median age of 51 compared to 45 in urban areas, are less likely to be college graduates, are more likely to live in the state where they were born (65.4 percent compared with 48.3 percent), and are more likely to have served in the military (10.4 percent of the population of adults in rural areas compared with 7.8 percent in urban areas).
The Census researchers also compared residents in 704 completely rural counties with their counterparts in counties that were mostly rural and with rural people in areas that were mostly urban. From 2011 to 2015, some 9 percent of the rural population (5.3 million) lived in completely rural counties, compared with about 41 percent (24.6 million) in 1,185 mostly rural counties and about 50 percent (30.1 million) in the 1,253 mostly urban counties. The data is on the web in the County Look-Up Table.
Rural areas had lower rates of poverty (11.7 percent compared with 14 percent) and were much less likely to have large immigrant population. Rural communities had fewer adults born in other countries (4 percent) compared with those in urban areas (19 percent).
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