Missouri's rural voters flocked to Trump, fueling statewide GOP victories | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri's rural voters flocked to Trump, fueling statewide GOP victories

Nov 9, 2016

Numbers don’t lie.

Overall, Missouri voters cast only 30,000 more votes for president Tuesday than they did four years ago.  But there was a 270,000-vote difference in who they backed.

That swing helps explain Tuesday’s GOP wave.

Trump’s state tally of almost 1.59 million votes amounted to 100,000 more than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

And losing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton garnered 170,000 fewer votes in the state than Barack Obama did four years ago.

Trump’s surge came largely from rural parts of the state, which have been struggling economically for decades. In some out-state counties, he collected more than 70 percent of the vote.

Veteran political science professor Terry Jones of the University of Missouri-St. Louis says there’s no question that the state’s rural voters, along with those in the region’s further-out “collar counties,” were far more energized Tuesday.

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“Rural Missouri, ex-urban Missouri turned out more than it did in 2012,” Jones said. “Urban Missouri, the city of Kansas City, the city of St. Louis, especially, but also St. Louis County turned out less.”

Urban voters in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas delivered about 50,000 fewer presidential votes than they did four years ago. But even if more had shown up at the polls, they wouldn’t have overcome the Trump wave.

The centerpiece of his Missouri’s support is no secret, Jones added.  “White males, particularly 40 and over, particularly those who have not gained much if anything, or have indeed lost in the last 20-30 years in terms of economic prosperity.”

Missouri’s rural areas have struggled for decades, ever since the small factories that used to pepper almost every town moved out and overseas in the 1970s-90s.

That rural economic frustration has fueled the political angst that Chris Koster, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor, sought to appease with his focus the last two years on rural issues. But even with rural groups’ endorsements, along with that of the NRA, Koster could not survive the GOP surge led by Trump, who has promised to address rural anger over lost jobs and what they viewed as unfair trade deals.

Missouri’s regional rural-urban divide epitomizes the national split, Jones said.

He said that Democrats need to concentrate more on ways to reach white working-class voters who had once been part of the Democratic coalition until Republican Ronald Reagan wooed them away.

Tuesday’s tallies in Jefferson County – a key Missouri bellwether – illustrate the Democratic Party’s challenge.

Only 8,000 more Jefferson County voters went to the polls on Tuesday, compared to 2012. But Trump captured 65 percent of the county’s votes, significantly higher than Romney’s 55 percent tally in 2012.

Less than 30 percent of Jefferson County voters went to Clinton, compared to 42 percent who backed Obama in 2012. That’s a  significant drop.

Aside from the geographical divide, Jones warns of a generational challenge facing both parties. “The millennial generation, which is becoming huge in terms of its share of the electorate, does not like political party organizations,” he said. “Trying to get them to identify with, and participate in, such organizations, is a real challenge.”