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In Voting, Rural And Urban Differences Are More Subtle, UNH Study Finds

NHPR Staff

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire say political candidates who see voters as merely rural or urban are missing a big part of the story.

In “Voting and Attitudes Along the Red Rural – Blue Urban Continuum,” demographer Kenneth Johnson and political scientist Dante Scala argue that results from the 2018 congressional election show a “continuum” of political attitudes rather than a simple urban/rural dichotomy.

In the most rural counties - that is, counties far from a metropolitan area and without a big town -  Republicans won around 70 percent of the vote, while counties with large cities voted around 70 percent Democrat.

But voting patterns in many counties were more nuanced.

Rural counties containing large towns had more support for Democrats than rural counties with no large towns.

Small suburbs tended to have voting patterns and social and political attitudes more like rural counties than big cities.

This is true in New Hampshire, where fast-growing suburbs in Rockingham and Strafford counties have given the Republican Party some of its strongest support.

Polls show President Trump trailing Joe Biden in New Hampshire ahead of the 2020 election, but Scala says he’ll be keeping a close eye on Republican suburbs to see if they get Trump closer to victory.

“In a swing state, it’s all about a margin of victory that you run up in places that are strong for you,” he says.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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