Much of the New York and Washington press corps has concluded that Donald Trump’s surprising journey to the Oval Office was powered by country bumpkins expressing their inner racist misogyny. However, the real foundations for his victory lie not in the countryside and small towns, but in key suburban counties.
The popular notion of “city” and “country,” one progressive and “vibrant,” the other regressive and dying, misses the basic geographic point: the largest metropolitan constituency in the country, far larger than the celebrated, and deeply class-divided core cities, is the increasingly diverse suburbs. Trump won suburbia by a significant five percentage point margin nationally, improving on Romney’s two-point edge, and by more outside the coastal regions.
Despite the blue urbanist cant that dense metro areas — inevitably labelled “vibrant” — are the future, in fact, core cities are growing at a slower pace than their more spread out suburbs and exurbs, which will these edge areas even more important politically and economically in the coming decade. The states that voted for Trump enjoyed net domestic migration of 1.45 million from 2010 to 2015, naturally drawn from the states that were won by Hillary Clinton. Democrat-leaning ethnic groups, like Hispanics, are expanding rapidly, but Americans are moving in every greater numbers to the more conservative geographies of the Sun Belt, the suburbs and exurbs.
The future battles between the parties will have to be waged where the people and jobs are: suburbia. Suburban voters particularly put Trump ahead in the crucial Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and came close to winning him supposedly deep blue Minnesota. This is where the Democratic falloff from the Obama years was most evident, notes Mike Barone, falling from dropping from 54 percent for Obama to 2008 to 45 percent this year.
Clinton did win some suburban counties, especially in the Philadelphia area, but by lower margins than President Obama had in 2012. Clinton’s margin was also lower in some older rustbelt urban counties: Erie (Buffalo), Onondaga (Syracuse), Monroe (Rochester), Albany, and Hamilton (Cincinnati). A number of college towns and state capitals also invariably voted for Clinton, overwhelmingly.