For Trump, It’s All About The Middle Suburbs

The ultimate political success or failure of Donald Trump’s presidency is going to be directly tied to the way 77 counties across the country view him and his administration.

Those counties, labeled Middle Suburbs in the American Communities Project, are less racially diverse than the nation at-large, with slightly lower income and education levels.

The Middle Suburbs swung heavily to Donald Trump in November. He won them by more than 13 points after Mitt Romney won them by 2 points in 2012. And Trump won 62 of the 77 counties, while Romney won only 45 of them. More important, Trump’s margin in those counties in the Industrial Midwest won him the Electoral College vote. (The Middle Suburbs are on the map below in light orange.)

How important were these counties for Trump? Look at the numbers from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In every case, the increase in votes that Trump got out of the Middle Suburbs, compared to Mitt Romney in 2012, was much larger than the margin by which Trump won the state.

2016 Middle Suburb Trump Margin 2012 Middle Suburb Romney Margin 2016 Republican Margin Growth 2016 Statewide Trump Margin















The numbers show that, in a very real sense, Trump owes his White House win to the Middle Suburbs in those states – 6 of them in Michigan, 14 in Pennsylvania and 7 in Wisconsin. Take away those states from Trump and he loses the electoral vote.

There were other factors in those states, of course. Vote increases in some rural areas and declines in some in big cities. But even with all those differences, the swings in the Middle Suburbs were decisive. Some of the best-known examples in these states include Macomb County in Michigan, Berks in Pennsylvania and Racine in Wisconsin.

So what do we know about the Middle Suburbs? Economically, their situation is not a disaster, or “carnage” as Trump might say, but it’s not great either.

The November unemployment rate in those counties was even with the national seasonally non-adjusted figure, 4.4%. But incomes and wages show some challenges.

The average median household income in the Middle Suburbs for 2015 was $51,932, about $2,000 under the national figure of $53,889. The income number is essentially flat since 2000 when the numbers are adjusted for inflation.

And when you look at average pay, you see declines in many Middle Suburb counties comparing 2015 to 2004 (the latest and earliest available online data from the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages). Since 2004, 32 of the 77 counties (41% of them) have seen their average pay decline when adjusted for inflation.

In other words, these are places where Trump’s plans of upsetting the status quo and rocking the boat carry a lot of weight. On the whole, they are not sliding into poverty. They still can still remember better times, but they don’t like the path the country is on and they want it changed – back to the way it used to be.

As the Trump administration proposes new policies and issues new orders keep these counties – and their reactions to them – in mind. National public opinion numbers are important, but the voters Trump cannot afford to lose are the ones who live in the Middle Suburbs.




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