Sup­port for Trump heavy, not uni­form

Even in ar­eas he won by big­gest mar­gins, pres­i­dent is po­lar­iz­ing

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BALZ

Ru­ral Amer­ica has of­ten backed Repub­li­cans in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, but rarely with the en­thu­si­asm shown for Don­ald Trump in 2016. More sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas of the coun­try form the heart of Trump Na­tion and con­tinue to pro­vide ma­jor­ity sup­port for a pres­i­dent who has faced near-con­stant con­tro­versy and dis­cord.

At a time when his job ap­proval rat­ing is in net neg­a­tive ter­ri­tory na­tion­ally, more than half of all adults (54 per­cent) in ru­ral Amer­ica say they ap­prove of the way Pres­i­dent Trump is do­ing his job, ac­cord­ing to a new Wash­ing­ton Post-Kaiser Family Foun­da­tion sur­vey. His ap­proval rat­ing among ru­ral Amer­i­cans is 10 per­cent­age points higher than among sub­ur­ban­ites and 22 points higher than among city dwellers.

At the same time, how­ever, any sug­ges­tion of ru­ral Amer­ica as near-mono­lithic in its sup­port for the pres­i­dent rep­re­sents a siz­able over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. Even in ar­eas of the coun­try where Trump scored some of his big­gest mar­gins, he is a di­vi­sive fig­ure — loved by his sup­port­ers but dis­liked by many who voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Four in 10 adults in ru­ral Amer­ica dis­ap­prove of his job per­for­mance, a hefty num­ber for a pres­i­dent still in the early stages of his ten­ure.

On elec­tion night in Novem­ber, Trump lost Amer­ica’s cities in a land­slide. In the sub­urbs, he nar­rowly pre­vailed over Clin­ton. But in the 2,332 coun­ties that make up small-town and ru­ral Amer­ica, he swamped his Demo­cratic ri­val, win­ning 60 per­cent of the vote to Clin­ton’s 34 per­cent. Trump’s 26point ad­van­tage over Clin­ton in

ru­ral Amer­ica far ex­ceeded the mar­gins by which Repub­li­can nom­i­nees had won those vot­ers in the four pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

That statis­tic alone does not tell the full story of Trump’s ap­peal and the grow­ing ur­ban-ru­ral di­vi­sion in the coun­try. Trump’s vote per­cent­age in ru­ral Amer­ica was 29 points higher than he re­ceived in the na­tion’s ur­ban coun­ties. That gap, like his over­all sup­port level among ru­ral vot­ers, is far larger than for Repub­li­can nom­i­nees be­tween 2000 and 2012.

The pres­i­dent is fond of show­ing vis­i­tors to the White House a map of the 2016 elec­tion re­sults by county. It shows a sea of red along with smaller patches of blue. The red ar­eas rep­re­sent the ru­ral and small-town coun­ties won by the pres­i­dent; the specks of blue high­light the ur­ban ar­eas where Clin­ton rolled up big mar­gins.

That map, how­ever im­pres­sive from a dis­tance, is de­ceiv­ing, high­light­ing ge­og­ra­phy over pop­u­la­tion den­sity. Small towns and ru­ral ar­eas ac­count for 74 per­cent of the na­tion’s 3,143 coun­ties. But those coun­ties ac­count for just un­der one-quar­ter of the to­tal U.S. pop­u­la­tion. Sub­ur­ban coun­ties count for 46 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion and ur­ban coun­ties the re­main­ing 31 per­cent.

When Trump’s ac­tual vote to­tals are an­a­lyzed on that ba­sis, the sub­urbs ap­pear to take on greater sig­nif­i­cance in his victory march. Sub­ur­ban coun­ties pro­vided close to half of Trump’s to­tal votes, while ru­ral and small-town coun­ties ac­counted for not quite one-third of his votes.

The ap­peal to vot­ers

Still, the out­size sup­port from vot­ers in ru­ral Amer­ica re­mains a ma­jor story of the 2016 elec­tion and of Trump’s pres­i­dency. Res­i­dents of ru­ral coun­ties turned out in num­bers big enough to help pro­vide the cru­cial victory mar­gins in states such as Ohio, Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia, Wis­con­sin and Iowa — states that either had been pres­i­den­tial bat­tle­grounds in re­cent years or con­sis­tently in the Democrats’ col­umn. The more ru­ral the county, the bet­ter Trump did on Elec­tion Day.

What at­tracted these vot­ers to Trump? One fac­tor, based on other post-elec­tion sur­veys, was their dis­like of Clin­ton, whose neg­a­tive rat­ings were nearly as high as Trump’s. Be­yond that, ac­cord­ing to the new Post-Kaiser sur­vey, his ap­peal was grounded in eco­nomic and cul­tural is­sues, with im­mi­gra­tion hav­ing par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance and skep­ti­cism that fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­grams have done much to help their ar­eas.

Trump’s sup­port was also driven by a feel­ing among ru­ral vot­ers that ur­ban and even sub­ur­ban Amer­i­cans do not share their val­ues and that the news me­dia dis­re­spects them.

Trump won 67 per­cent of the vote among ru­ral Amer­i­cans who say their val­ues dif­fer from peo­ple in big cities. He won 71 per­cent of those who say the news me­dia dis­re­spect them. He won 74 per­cent among those who say im­mi­grants are not do­ing enough to adapt to the Amer­i­can way of life. He cap­tured 79 per­cent of those ru­ral vot­ers who say that fed­eral gov­ern­ment ef­forts to im­prove peo­ple’s stan­dard of liv­ing gen­er­ally make things worse.

Ru­ral vot­ers widely em­brace the eco­nomic pol­icy ideas Trump es­poused as a can­di­date. Al­most 7 in 10 ru­ral Amer­i­cans say de­creas­ing reg­u­la­tions on busi­nesses would be im­por­tant el­e­ments of im­prov­ing the job sit­u­a­tion in their ar­eas. Al­most 8 in 10 say the same about low­er­ing taxes on busi­ness and mak­ing bet­ter trade deals. In­fra­struc­ture projects re­ally draw sup­port, with more than 9 in 10 re­spond­ing pos­i­tively to such ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing 74 per­cent who called them “very im­por­tant.” On most ques­tions, ru­ral vot­ers who say these poli­cies would help their com­mu­ni­ties were more likely to vote for Trump.

Ex­pec­ta­tions, confidence

Sup­port for those ideas, many of which have yet to gain trac­tion in Congress or even be pro­posed by the pres­i­dent, is tem­pered by more mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions of what a Trump pres­i­dency will do to im­prove the eco­nomic life of ru­ral Amer­i­cans. Over­all, a slim 51 per­cent ma­jor­ity of ru­ral res­i­dents are very or some­what con­fi­dent that Trump will cre­ate jobs in their com­mu­nity, while 46 per­cent say they are not too con­fi­dent or not con­fi­dent at all about this.

Still, those ru­ral vot­ers who backed Trump in Novem­ber ex­press confidence that his pres­i­dency will im­prove their lives. About 8 in 10 say they are either very or some­what con­fi­dent that Trump will im­prove health care and cre­ate jobs in their area. More than 9 in 10 Trump vot­ers say that they think he will keep the coun­try safe from ter­ror­ism and that he will pro­tect in­di­vid­ual free­doms.

Con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion, abuse of pub­lic as­sis­tance and racial bi­ases res­onate es­pe­cially among Trump’s ru­ral vot­ers. More than 6 in 10 Trump sup­port­ers say im­mi­grants are a bur­den be­cause they take jobs away from Amer­i­cans rather than strength­en­ing the coun­try with their hard work and tal­ents. More than 8 in 10 ru­ral Trump vot­ers say it’s more com­mon for gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits to go to un­de­serv­ing peo­ple rather than for needy peo­ple to go with­out them. And by a mar­gin of more than 3 to 1, ru­ral Trump vot­ers say whites’ los­ing out be­cause of pref­er­ences for blacks and His­pan­ics is a big­ger na­tional prob­lem than racial mi­nori­ties’ los­ing out to whites.

Sig­nif­i­cant par­ti­san dif­fer­ences ex­ist in ru­ral Amer­ica, as they do through­out the coun­try. On im­mi­gra­tion, for ex­am­ple, 71 per­cent of ru­ral Repub­li­cans say im­mi­grants com­ing to the United States in the past decade are not do­ing enough to adapt to the Amer­i­can way of life, while just 29 per­cent of ru­ral Democrats agree with that.

A 57 per­cent ma­jor­ity of ru­ral Democrats say re­cent im­mi­grants have val­ues sim­i­lar to theirs, but only 27 per­cent of ru­ral Repub­li­cans ex­press that view. Ru­ral Democrats are al­most three times as likely as ru­ral Repub­li­cans to say fed­eral pro­grams de­signed to im­prove liv­ing stan­dards do make things bet­ter — 50 per­cent vs. 18 per­cent.

Al­most 4 in 10 ru­ral Democrats and Demo­cratic-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents say they have dif­fer­ent val­ues from other ru­ral and small-town res­i­dents, about three times the per­cent­age of ru­ral Repub­li­cans who say the same.

In other ways, res­i­dents in ru­ral and small-town ar­eas, re­gard­less of party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, of­ten see the world and is­sues dif­fer­ently from their po­lit­i­cal coun­ter­parts else­where. Asked about their views of im­mi­grants, ru­ral Repub­li­cans are more neg­a­tive in their re­sponses than ur­ban and sub­ur­ban Repub­li­cans and ru­ral Democrats are less pos­i­tive than ur­ban and sub­ur­ban Democrats.

A sim­i­lar pat­tern holds on the ques­tion of whether Chris­tian val­ues are un­der at­tack in the United States, at least among Democrats. Ru­ral Democrats are 11 per­cent­age points more likely to say yes to that ques­tion than ur­ban and sub­ur­ban Democrats, though ru­ral Repub­li­cans are sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to see those val­ues un­der at­tack than ru­ral Democrats. And while most Democrats in all ar­eas op­pose Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal and re­place the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act, 23 per­cent of ru­ral Democrats sup­port such ef­forts, com­pared with 14 per­cent of ur­ban Democrats.

This Wash­ing­ton Post-Kaiser Family Foun­da­tion poll was con­ducted April 13-May 1 with a ran­dom na­tional sam­ple of 1,686 U.S. adults con­tacted on lan­d­line tele­phones and cell­phones. The over­all mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror is plus or mi­nus 4 per­cent­age points. The sam­ple of 1,070 ru­ral Amer­i­cans has an er­ror mar­gin of plus or mi­nus 3.5 points; the er­ror mar­gin is seven points for the sam­ple of 303 ur­ban res­i­dents and 6.5 points for the 307 sub­ur­ban res­i­dents.

dan.balz@wash­post.com

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A vot­ing site in Derry Town­ship, Pa. In ru­ral Amer­ica, the pres­i­dent’s job ap­proval rat­ing is 54 per­cent.

PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: A woman in Phyl­lis, Ky., pulls a lawn mower in front of a build­ing with a paint­ing of a Confederate flag. A sign in Kim­ball, W.Va., warns peo­ple not to tres­pass. In Wil­liamson, W.Va., ATVs are al­lowed to use the streets as the town is part of the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail. Ru­ral Amer­ica has of­ten backed Repub­li­cans in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, but rarely with the en­thu­si­asm shown for Don­ald Trump in 2016.

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