By Kyle Stewart and Aidan Quigley
Two weeks before the election, David Bravo-Cullen, the chairman of the Dryden Republicans, was driving around New York’s Adirondack region and caught hold of an interesting phenomenon: an abundance of signs supporting Republican nominee Donald Trump and none supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Bravo-Cullen and other rural white voters, helped propel Trump to a shocking upset win on election day.
“I think they didn’t like the direction the country has been heading for the last few years, and the way the Democratic candidate was wanting to continue that direction,” he said. “I think a lot of people wanted something different, they wanted a little more say, control, prosperity.”
There was a clear divide between rural and urban voters in the election. Trump won 62 percent of voters in rural America, while Clinton won 34 percent. In the suburbs, Trump won a 50 percent to 45 percent victory, while Clinton won in the cities 59 percent to 35 percent.
Ann-Marie Adams, a lecturer in the Department of Strategic Communications at Ithaca College and a government and public affairs specialist, said rural voters helped give Trump to his victory.
“We have a lot of individuals in the United States who have not necessarily felt the benefits of past administrations,” she said. “I think if we look at what the Trump campaign took advantage of, which I thought was a great strategy, is what do these people need? What are they looking for? What can we do for them?”
A surge in white rural voters in industrial, Midwestern states helped propel Trump to his victory in the electoral college which gave him the presidency, as Trump won the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which were long considered to be Democratic strongholds. For example, the Wyoming River Valley of Pennsylvania, which includes Scranton and Wilkes Barre, voted for Trump after voting for Obama by double digits in 2012.
The over-confidence in a Clinton win before the election was, in part, due to the number of white working-class voters over age 45 being underestimated by around 10 million, according to the New York Times.
A wide range of factors contributed to Trump’s win, said Richard Bensel, a professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University. The Republican primary was essentially a rebellion of the party’s base against its elites, he said, as they had not gotten a roll-back of liberal social policy they were seeking nor the benefits of top-down economic policy.
“That Proletarian base got neither one,” he said. “They didn’t get the achievements in social issues and they didn’t get trickle down benefits in economic policy.”
Trump’s brash style appealed to these voters, Bensel said.
“Whatever else you think about Donald Trump, he’s authentic,” he said. “He was not afraid, he’s still not afraid, to say whatevers on his mind. And in doing that, that authenticity contrasted quite a bit with the establishment candidates.”
Although Bravo-Cullen originally supported Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, he said he was attracted to Trump’s stances on national security.
“As a businessman, as a big businessman, he has those skills,” he said. “The negotiating skills, the leadership skills, the ability to figure out if somebody’s going to be good for something or some issue, and he’s decisive.”
Whites in rural areas are much more likely than whites in urban areas to say that jobs are hard to find in their communities, with 69 percent of whites in rural areas saying jobs are hard to find while only 45 percent of whites in urban areas agreed, according to Pew Research Center. Rural voters also tended to be more concerned about immigration and jobs being available to their children than urban voters.
Michael Carinha, a freshman at Ithaca College from Brewster, New York, voted for Trump. Although he had serious reservations about Trump, as a conservative he felt the need to vote for Trump.
“I think his Supreme Court picks would definitely have been the strongest reason, if not the only reason, I voted for him in the first place,” he said.
It’s important to look at how rural voters consume media, Adams said, when considering their voting choices. She said areas with low volume of wifi access and digital capacity have less access to information as those in more urban areas.
“I think we’re just in this gap where some of these areas don’t have access or aren’t aware of the points that they can grab information through the internet,” she said. “Eventually that won’t be such a disparity. You’ll see everyone grabbing from this large new era of opportunity to gain access to information. We’re just not at that point yet.”
Bensel points to the “brain drain” of individuals from rural areas to the cities as contributing to the stark difference between rural and urban voters in the election.
“Being in the cities attracts higher-education people, more professional people, skilled labor,” he said.”
Since the 1950s, college-educated people have been leaving rural areas and moving to cities, which has led to rural areas having a lower income level and more economic distress than the rest of the country. This has also led to a population decrease in these areas.
“That’s been taking talent and college educated people out of rural areas for a long time, and they’ve been depressed economically,” he said.
Carinha said living in New York, most students at Ithaca College don’t realize how conservative the rest of the country is as they live on the liberal coasts. This contributed to the shock on campus and in the Ithaca community after Trump won the election.
“That’s actually what a majority of America is, and we don’t realize it because we’re on the coasts, which are very Democratic, so we have a very different perspective compared to the rest of the country where a lot of it is suburban and rural,” he said.
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