Dec 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats show signs of life in rural America

Select Democratic candidates who outperformed Biden in rural counties during the 2022 midterms
Data: Third Way; Chart: Axios Visuals. Note: Ryan's percentage is from his unsuccessful Senate run.

A new analysis of the midterms by centrist Democratic think tank Third Way finds that most Democratic candidates improved on President Biden's 2020 performance in rural America — with some notable exceptions.

How it works: Third Way's data dive labeled counties as rural, suburban/exurban or urban and aggregated the countywide results. The analysis covered 10 states (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and 16 races.

By the numbers: Pennsylvania Sen.-elect John Fetterman was one of the party's top rural success stories. He outdistanced Biden by seven points in the state's rural counties — overperforming Democrats more in the state's rural counties than in the suburban and urban centers.

  • The four Black Senate and gubernatorial nominees in the biggest battlegrounds (Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin) all underperformed Biden in their states' rural counties. Only one other Democrat in the analysis (defeated Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak) did worse than Biden in rural counties.
  • In the Georgia runoff, Sen. Raphael Warnock underperformed Biden by 1.8% in the state's rural counties, even as he overperformed the president by 5.3% in the urban counties.
  • Among Senate candidates, the party's top overperformer in the suburbs was Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who ran 4.7% ahead of Biden.

Between the lines: Biden's rural performance in 2020 was a low point for Democrats, so there was plenty of room to improve. Only 33% of rural voters backed Biden in the last presidential election, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, a worse showing than Hillary Clinton in 2016.

  • On the flip side, 10 of the 16 candidates outperformed Biden in the suburbs, reinforcing their status as Democrats' new sweet spot.
  • Biden already dominated in the suburbs by 11 points over Trump, according to the Pew analysis, making the continued Democratic gains all the more consequential.
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