As Republican US President Donald Trump seeks a second term in November, Americans’ interest in voting is growing faster in large cities dominated by the Democratic Party than in conservative rural areas controlled by the Republican Party, an analysis of Reuters/Ipsos national opinion polls found.
If the trend lasts until the US presidential election on Nov. 3, it would be a reversal from the 2016 US presidential election when rural turnout outpaced voting in urban areas, helping Trump narrowly win the White House.
The finding, based on responses from more than 88,000 US adults who took the online poll from August to December 2015 or from August to December last year, suggests that the “Blue Wave,” a swell of anti-Trump activism that followed his entry into the White House in 2017, is still rolling across the country’s largest population centers.
Illustration: June Hsu
Even as Trump commands rock-solid support among Republicans, voters’ interest in going to the polls appears to be growing faster among those who disapprove of Trump than among those who approve of him, experts who reviewed the data said.
The advantage in urban political engagement extends deep into the most competitive battleground states that Trump won by razor-thin margins four years ago, the data showed.
In large urban areas of the upper Midwest, a region that includes swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, the number of people who said they were “certain” to vote in this year’s presidential election rose by 10 percentage points to 67 percent from survey responses in 2015.
In smaller upper Midwest communities, the number of people similarly dedicated to voting rose by only about 1 percentage point to 60 percent in that same four-year period.
Overall, the number of “certain” voters rose by 7 percentage points nationally from 2015 to last year. It increased by more than that in the largest metropolitan areas, rising by 9 percentage points in communities with 1 million to 5 million people and 8 percentage points in metropolitan areas with at least 5 million people.
Smaller and rural communities lagged behind. The number of “certain” voters rose by 5 percentage points in sparsely populated, Republican-dominated “non-metropolitan” areas.
Last year, the rise in urban political engagement helped Democrats win political victories, including governor’s races in conservative-leaning Kentucky and Louisiana.
It might have also contributed to elevated voting levels in some of the more heavily populated communities and college towns in Iowa and New Hampshire, which held their presidential nominating contests earlier this month.
“Democrats are very angry,” said University of Michigan political scientist Nicholas Valentino, who reviewed some of the poll findings for Reuters. “Many see this administration as an existential threat to the constitutional order. They’re standing ready to participate to try to change the course of this country.”
To be sure, a lot can happen this year to change the public’s interest in voting.
“Republicans are fired up as well” after the Democratic-led US House of Representatives tried to remove Trump through impeachment, said Bryon Allen, chief research officer at WPA Intelligence, a conservative political consulting firm that works with dozens of Republican congressional candidates.
In the New Hampshire Republican primary on Nov. 11, 151,011 people showed up to support Trump even though he had no significant competition, a turnout that easily surpassed the number who participated in previous primaries when former US presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton sought re-election.
“Democrats can’t just assume that if they drive up turnout in the suburbs, they’ll win,” exit polling firm Edison Research cofounder Joe Lenski said. “Trump can drive up turnout in small towns and rural areas to counteract that.”
While voting has been higher this year in Democratic US presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, experts have said that at least some of that is due to population growth.
A lot of Democrats might also be sitting out the primaries “because they don’t see a lot of distinction between these candidates,” University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald said.
When Trump gets on the ballot in November, “there will be much sharper interest in voting,” McDonald said.
By Nov. 3, McDonald expects as many as two-thirds of the voting-age population might cast ballots, a record level of participation for a US presidential election.
That would be up from 60.1 percent turnout among eligible voters in 2016 and it would surpass a generational high point of 63.8 percent turnout recorded in 1960, McDonald’s US Elections Project said.
Mary Lou Seamon, 67, of Knoxville, Tennessee, is one of millions who expect to take part after sitting out the 2016 US presidential election.
The retired social services worker said that none of the candidates, especially Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, excited her four years ago.
Seamon admired Trump, at least initially, for his experience as a businessman, but her opinions soured once Trump took office and she became determined in 2018 to vote him out after he attacked former US senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero.
On Nov. 3, Seamon said that she would vote for any Democrat, no matter who wins the nomination: “I just want to beat Trump.”
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, which is conducted online and administered throughout the US, started asking US adults in 2012 to rate their overall level of interest in voting in upcoming general elections.
Poll respondents were asked to rate their level of engagement on a scale of one to 10, with one meaning that they were certain not to vote and 10 meaning that they were certain to participate.
It gathered 53,394 responses in the last five months of 2015 and 35,271 responses in the same period of last year.
Using the zip codes provided by the respondents, Ipsos split the survey by the population size of the community that people lived in. Both regionally and nationally, the analysis showed that political engagement increased the most from 2015 to last year in large urban areas and the least in non-metropolitan areas.
It was the same when grouping just those states where the margin of victory is expected to be closest this year.
In a “battleground” region that included Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado, the number of “certain” voters rose by 9 percentage points in large metropolitan areas that have a population of at least 5 million and 8 percentage points in areas with 1 to 5 million, while it rose by 4 percentage points in smaller, non-metropolitan areas (https://tmsnrt.rs/2SD4cYX).
Here are the results across different regions of the US:
Among those living in the upper Midwest, a region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, the poll found a jump in political engagement in some of the same urban areas where Democrats fell short in 2016 (https://tmsnrt.rs/324Wk5P).
Altogether, 67 percent of people living in metropolitan areas of at least 1 million people rated themselves as “certain to vote” in the poll last year. That is up by about 10 percentage points from 2015.
By contrast, 63 percent of those who lived in smaller communities of less than 1 million rated themselves as similarly certain to vote, which is up 2 percentage points from 2015.
Trump won Michigan and Wisconsin by less than 40,000 votes combined, in part because of depressed turnout in Wayne County, Michigan, and Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin.
In the Southeast, voter engagement is surging in large metropolitan areas such as Miami-Dade in southern Florida and Atlanta, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by double-digit percentages (https://tmsnrt.rs/2HBCW72).
Last year, about 60 percent said that they were certain to vote in the US presidential election, up 8 percentage points from 2015. In metropolitan areas with less than 1 million people, 64 percent said that they were certain to vote, up by 7 percentage points. In smaller non-metropolitan areas, the number of people who were locked in on voting rose by 6 percentage points from 2015 to 60 percent.
The poll found that 65 percent of residents in the Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and other big southwestern metropolitan areas planned to vote in the US presidential election. That is up by 9 percentage points from 2015. Political engagement rose by nearly the same amount — 8 percentage points — in smaller metropolitan areas, but it was unchanged in rural areas of the Southwest (https://tmsnrt.rs/2SC4kYU).
The presidential race this year might be especially competitive in Arizona and Colorado. Trump is expected to win Utah, while New Mexico is considered a reliably safe state for Democrats.
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