The Democratic Party abandoned rural voters, and it is just starting to figure out that it needs rural votes to win.
In his acceptance speech as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, a former labor secretary in the Obama administration, said “We have to get back rural America.”
Perez has no idea how little chance the Democratic Party has of winning back these voters.
The 2016 Democratic presidential campaign was run on a clear premise.
By appealing to the same “coalition of the ascendant,” minorities, millennials and college-educated white people, that former President Obama drew together in 2008 and 2012, Democrats planned to repeat their electoral victory in 2016.
To do this, the Clinton campaign launched an outreach campaign directly targeting specific identity groups. This was a broad coalition.
The campaign targeted women, African-Americans, Latinos, young people and the LGBT community. In the Democrats’ political calculus, winning these specific groups would provide a path to victory.
As we saw Nov. 8, there were some problems with this strategy. First and foremost, Hillary Clinton is not Obama.
Obama is one of the most gifted campaigners in American history, and the historic turnouts and margins that drove Obama to victory were as much a result of his skill as a candidate as they were because of his policies.
For example, despite news coverage that would suggest otherwise, President Trump won higher percentages of Latino, African-American and female voters in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
Additionally, while these groups did support Clinton overall, they did not turn out in the same numbers as they did for Obama in past election years.
Democrats needed to make up for this vote deficit with other voters who were not part of this coalition, specifically rural voters, because trying to increase urban turnout behind bad candidates didn’t work this year. As diverse as the Obama coalition is, it lacks one important thing: geographic diversity.
The groups the Clinton campaign targeted live largely in coastal states and dense metropolitan areas, so their electoral influence is diluted. Swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania had far fewer of these voters, and Democrats needed rural voters to pick up the slack of low turnout and lower victory margins among groups in the Obama coalition.
Rural voters, as we saw, did not vote Democrat. From 2008 to 2016, rural votes for Republicans grew from 53 to 62 percent according to NPR.
Much like Obama’s unprecedented turnout numbers and margins of victory in 2008, Trump won rural voters in a landslide.
To bring its coalition together, Democrats have often used rural voters as punching bags.
See Obama’s comments describing rural voters as “clinging to their guns and religion.”
These are cultural, not policy-based, positions.
After a decade of that rhetoric and treatment from the Democratic Party, rural voters are not likely to be fleeing from the Republican Party in the upcoming 2018 midterms.
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