Republicans And Diversity: How The GOP’s Rural Base Spoils The Party

My previous post on the GOP’s problem with projecting a love of diversity when they don’t live it focused on the Republican House caucus and the heavily white districts they tend to represent. Another way to illustrate this point is to look at where GOP support tends to come from by population density. The denser an area, the more cosmopolitan and diverse it is likely to be. And that’s precisely where Republicans tend not to be.

Start with the states that Governor Romney won in 2012. By and large, they tended to be rural and lightly populated. Fourteen out of 26 states carried by President Obama this year had 10 or more electoral votes, while just six of 24 states carried by Romney had 10 or more electoral votes. Obama also carried seven of the eight most populous states: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Only Texas went for Romney.

But the population density pattern can be seen most clearly by looking at the types of areas that Obama and Romney did well in. Obama ran strongest in large metropolitan areas (those with more than 1 million in population), winning these areas by 56 percent to 42 percent. Well over half (54 percent) of the U.S. population lives in these 51 large metropolitan areas.

Obama and Romney tied, 49 percent-49 percent, in medium metropolitan areas (those with 250,000 to 1 million in population). Medium metros contain another 20 percent of the U.S. population.


In small metro areas (nine percent of the country), where the population dips below 250,000, Romney was finally able to build a vote margin over Obama. Romney carried these areas 55 percent-43 percent. And outside of metro areas, where population density continues to fall, Romney did even better. In micropolitan areas — think of these areas as the small town sections of rural America — Romney beat Obama by 18 percentage points, 58 percent-40 percent. Micropolitans are another 10 percent of the U.S. population. And in the rest of rural America, the part that is most isolated from population centers and the most spread out, Gov. Romney bested Obama by 23 points, 61 percent-38 percent. These areas, despite the vast land area they cover, contain only 6 percent of the population (which is why, if you look at county maps of election returns, so much of it is colored red despite President Obama’s solid victory).

The same density-related patterns of support for Obama and Gov. Romney can be observed within large metropolitan areas. Here we can use a typology developed by Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute and Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program to break these areas down by density and distance from the urban core. In large metro areas Obama did best in densely populated urban cores (9 percent of the country), carrying counties in this classification by a whopping 55 points (77 percent to 22 percent). Moving out from pure urban core counties to the densest, closest-in suburban counties — classified as inner-suburban in the typology — Obama carried these counties by a wide 25-point margin (62 percent-37 percent). Almost a fifth (19 percent) of the nation’s population is contained in these inner-suburban counties.

President Obama also carried mature suburban counties (16 percent of the nation’s population) — counties that are somewhat less dense than inner-suburbs and typically contain no portion of the central city — by 13 points (56 percent-43 percent.

Moving out to the emerging suburbs, it is important to distinguish between these areas and true exurbs, which together constitute what people usually think of as “exurbia.” Today’s true exurbs contain only 3 percent of the nation’s population. That is where Gov. Romney did the best, carrying these counties by 24 points (61 percent-37 percent).

In contrast, emerging suburbs contain 8 percent of the nation’s population and tend to be faster-growing and denser than true exurbs. Emerging suburbs include such well-known counties as Loudoun County, VA, just outside of Washington, DC; Scott County, MN, outside of Minneapolis; Warren County, OH, outside of Cincinnati; and Douglas County, CO, outside of Denver. In this category of counties Gov. Romney also did well (53 percent-45 percent) though not nearly as well as he did in the true exurbs, where population density is lowest and concentration of white voters is highest.


Living where they ain’t: that’s today’s Republican party. It’s a problem that is not amenable to a quick GOP image makeover, as the party is currently finding out.