Trump-Clinton vote shows growing divide between metro and rural Georgia

According to the latest numbers at the Georgia Secretary of State website, Donald Trump got 2,085,068 votes in Georgia. That’s only about 7,000 more votes than Romney took in 2012.

Clinton got 1,869,683 votes in Georgia. That’s about 93,000 more than Obama got in 2012. Final tally:

  • Trump 51.1 percent
  • Clinton 45.8 percent

In 2012:

  • Romney 53.3 percent
  • Obama 45.5 percent.

Georgia was one of a handful of states where Clinton did better in 2016 than Obama did in 2012.

There might not be too much more of a story here if the 2016 tallies across the state mirrored the 2012 numbers, but last Tuesday we saw an especially stark divide — considerably more extreme than four years ago — between the choices of residents of large metro areas and the choices of residents of rural and other lightly populated areas.

Teri has already discussed the dramatic changes in Cobb County, which is part of the booming Atlanta metro area. Clinton beat Trump by about 7,000 votes, 48.8 percent to 46.8 percent. Four years ago, Romney beat Obama by about 37,000 votes in Cobb, 55.4 percent to 43 percent.

In Fulton County, Romney got 34.5 percent of the vote in 2012, but Trump managed only 27.4 percent.

Here in Chatham County (Savannah), Obama beat Romney by about 13,000 votes, 55.5 percent to 43.5 percent. Last Tuesday, Clinton beat Trump by more than 16,000 votes, 55.9 percent to 41 percent.

Clinton’s improvements on Obama’s 2012 performance in some counties might have been partially due to the steady increase in the percentage of the electorate comprised of left-leaning minority voters, but it looks like the Clinton gains in many counties came from white voters.

But take a look at what happened in rural areas of the state.

Consider Echols County along the Florida border. In 2012, Romney took 917 votes for 83.2 percent and beat Obama by 743 votes. How can anyone beat that margin? Well, Trump took 1,007 votes for 85.6 percent and beat Clinton by 851 votes.

In Pierce County, Trump beat Clinton 86.4 percent to 12.4 percent. Romney beat Obama by a mere 82.8 percent to 16.4 percent. Trump’s margin was 5,398 votes; Romney’s margin was only 4,543 votes.

I could go on and on with examples like these. Even in smaller counties where Clinton matched Obama’s 2012 percentage, Trump typically ran up larger raw vote margins because of increased turnout.

These same patterns in the Midwest — with Trump surging in counties with lower population and less diverse demographics — seem to have been the key to his Electoral College victory. (Clinton’s popular vote win will almost certainly be over 1 percent once all the votes are counted.)

I’ve been an occasional contributor to GeorgiaPol.com since it was founded, and for a number of years I wrote posts about the state’s economic situation for Peach Pundit. My City Talk columns for the Savannah Morning News generally stick to local issues, but I’ve routinely noted in recent years the sharp divergence in economic and population growth between the now-booming Savannah metro area and the smaller counties farther from the coast.

Things are pretty ugly out there. I’m sure many of you have read about the closure of rural hospitals and other negative developments in much of the state, but the crises go beyond public health. More than half of Georgia’s counties are believed to have lost population between 2010 and 2015. From Georgia growth super-concentrated in Atlanta; half state’s counties are losing population by Lee Shearer earlier this year:

But [UGA demographer Matt] Hauer was surprised to find nearly half of Georgia’s 159 counties were actually losing population in the first part of this decade. Between 2010 and 2013, 82 Georgia counties, many of them rural, lost population. More than two dozen of them saw negative growth of 10 percent or more. From 2000 to 2010, 30 counties lost population, most of them in southwest Georgia.

If your county is losing population, that means more people are dying and moving out than are being born and moving in. Once that cycle begins, construction dries up, tax revenues fall, home prices decline, blight becomes more of a problem.

Is Trump the answer that will help rural parts of Georgia and other states?

At the national level, you can find the scattered proposal, but neither the Democratic nor Republican parties have any coherent strategies for helping rural areas. Yes, the Obama administration has put forth proposals like the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative for coal country, but Republican politicians in affected states have shown little enthusiasm to work for such plans. If Trump is serious about helping rural economies, he might actually be more likely to embrace a “big government stimulus” proposal like that than congressional Republicans have been.

But what about the stated Trump agenda? Limiting immigration? Tariffs on imported goods? Higher interest rates? Repealing the ACA, which would roll back the Medicaid expansion in states that took it?

At this early point, I don’t think that Donald Trump will actually follow through on any of those promises, but none of them would, in the aggregate, help rural Georgia. Perhaps his vague plans for infrastructure stimulus spending — let’s call it what it is — could help rural areas, but it’s hard to justify major infrastructure improvements in counties that are losing population. Those stimulus spending efforts would almost certainly be concentrated in areas that are already seeing solid economic and population growth.

On top of all those problems, the U.S. economy is very likely to fall into a cyclical recession in the next four years — that would have been the case no matter who won last Tuesday. Only once since World War II have we had 10 years between the end of one recession and the beginning of the next.

That next recession is going to hit especially hard in places that haven’t even really recovered from the last one.

P.S.: It’s possible — but by no means certain — that the demographic shifts discussed here were the primary reason the polls and final projections had Clinton another 2+ percentage points ahead in the popular vote. If the pollsters samples of white voters even slightly over-represented the metro vote or under-represented the rural vote — both seem likely — that would seem to account for the actual results we saw on Tuesday.

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Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

It’ll be hunky-dory when tax cuts for the rich run up the deficit, but it’s a good deal!