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As former President Donald Trump’s history-making second impeachment trial gets underway today, there is truly little expectation that the Senators who are doubling as the jury will vote to convict the bombastic former reality-show host. Already, 45 of the 50 Republican Senators have said they don’t even think the proceedings are constitutional, and the odds of 17 Republicans turning on Trump are still long.
So as America dons its blue jerseys and red jerseys for what is expected to be a largely partisan show trial, I was struck by an analysis from a scholar over at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank around the corner from TIME’s Washington Bureau. In it, Sarah Lawrence College and New York University scholar Samuel J. Abrams notes an important truth about the 45th President in a posting headlined “Do not overlook just how deep Trump’s support ran in the electorate.”
Abrams looks through still-unpublished data collected through The Los Angeles Times/ Reality Check Insights national poll taken Dec. 17 to Jan. 4 and finds the widely held beliefs about Trump’s supporters might deserve a second look. While Trump did fare strongest among rural voters, they weren’t the only voters who backed his re-election. Abrams’ analysis suggests Trump picked off a quarter of Hispanic voters and a quarter of Millennial voters — groups that are the future of the American electorate.
Trump clearly lost other demographics: voters who live in cities and who have college educations. But those groups don’t comprise the majority of U.S. voters: only 3 in 10 voters live in a city of 50,000 people or more, and just 4 in 10 have college degrees, according to much-disputed exit polls.
So as America straps in for a busy few days of speechifying and dramatic videos of Jan. 6 cut with a Christopher Nolan eye for anxiety, it might be worth looking at this trial through a different lens: urban and rural audiences are watching entirely different realities unfold here in Washington. The minority of Americans who call big cities home backed Joe Biden in no small measure because they were ready to be rid of the drama of the Trump era. But the 70% of Americans who call small cities, suburbs and rural America home went with Trump.
Trump didn’t create this deep rural-urban divide. It’s largely been this way since the post-World War II migration patterns that sent white families into the suburbs, which swung Republican, and cities hardened into Democratic strongholds. Modern demographics, of course, have caught up; greater education opportunities begat higher incomes and greater diversity in the suburbs, which are now some of the most integrated neighborhoods in America. Trump didn’t accept this reality, chased votes in the ‘burbs last year like it was the 1970s — as noted in his space all the way back in July — and lost the suburbs by 2 percentage points.
It’s also worth adding this finding from Abrams’ analysis: the cities may be bigger in numbers, but they don’t show up with the same intensity as the rural voters do. On Election Day, 27% of city voters stayed home compared to the 16% who call rural communities home. In the eight states that decided 2020, the majority of votes came from votes who said they didn’t live in urban settings. In fact, Arizona — a new kid at the swing-state table — posted the strongest showing with 46% turnout from cities of that size. In Pennsylvania, just 22% of the state’s voters hailed from larger cities. Big voter-registration drives in cities add bigly to the voter rolls, but they often lack the follow-up efficiency as small-town political machines.
So as we watch lawmakers engage in this now-familiar political ritual of impeachment, it’s worth considering how this looks to voters at home — and who they actually are. Biden won the White House but there are still 74 million Americans out there who voted for the other guy. And what they’re about to watch on TV is probably not going to change many of their minds.
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