Presidential candidate Ted Cruz at a campaign rally. Jim Urquhart / Reuters

The remaining candidates continue to resonate with counties that are being left behind.

The conventional line about this year’s primary season is that Donald Trump has capitalized on the growing anxiety and seething anger of white, male, working-class voters whose economic situation has been increasingly threatened by globalization, deindustrialization, and the rise of the knowledge economy. But the reality is that this current runs far deeper than “Trumpism.” It increasingly defines the three other remaining GOP candidates, and in some ways the Republican Party as a whole.

That’s the big takeaway of my analysis of the geography of this year’s Republican primaries, which I conducted with a team of political, demographic, and economic researchers. Our research examines the key economic and demographic characteristics of the counties that voted for each of the three remaining GOP candidates—Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich—as well as Marco Rubio, who exited the race last month. David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report generously shared his detailed dataset of Republican primary votes by county. Todd Gabe of the University of Maine matched Wasserman’s primary voting data to data on the economics and demographics of counties, and ran the correlation analysis. And my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleague Greg Spencer mapped the data and performed an additional analysis.

The data covers 1,952 total counties in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Wasserman put together the dataset before the Wisconsin primary. The matched dataset also does not include Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, New Hampshire, Kansas, and Massachusetts because their election results are compiled for geographic units other than counties. Of the counties in our dataset, 1,255 went for Trump, 600 for Cruz, 57 for Kasich, and 40 for Rubio. What’s interesting about this analysis is that it tells us about the kinds of communities, as opposed the kinds of people, that are voting for these primary candidates.


Our maps below show the county-by-county share of voters who voted for these four candidates. Light blue indicates counties where the share of the vote is low, and dark purple indicates counties where it is high. The tables below list the key characteristics of the average county, weighted by population, that voted for Trump, Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio: income, education (college grads), race (non-Hispanic whites), age (65 and above), population density (people per square mile), and the share of workers employed in blue collar versus knowledge and creative class jobs.

Ultimately, our findings suggest that all three remaining candidates largely draw their support from less affluent, less educated, less dense, white, working class communities. Rubio is the only exception, drawing considerably greater support from richer, denser, more diverse, and college educated knowledge and creative class counties. Together, the three remaining GOP candidates reflect a party that increasingly appeals to the places that are being left behind.

County Characteristics for Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich

Candidate Density (per square mile) White (Non-Hispanic) Age (65+) Average Household Income Families Below Poverty Bachelor's Degree or Higher Working Class Creative Class
Trump 109 65.6% 15.0% $65,546 12.9% 24.9% 22.0% 31.7%
Cruz 81 59.7% 12.0% $70,184 12.4% 27.4% 22.2% 33.6%
Rubio 867 47.0% 11.6% $87,641 11.1% 40.7% 14.9% 42.2%
Kasich 390 78.0% 14.2% $67,974 11.3% 28.5% 21.4% 34.8%
Average County 110 62.3% 13.8% $68,652 12.5% 27.0% 21.4% 33.3%


Trump performs best in counties with large shares of poverty, white voters, and blue-collar or working-class jobs, and low shares of highly educated voters, income, density, and creative-class or knowledge workers. Additionally, Trump counties are positively associated with blue-collar, working-class counties (.26), poverty (.42), populations 65 years of age and above (.21), and negatively associated with college grads (-.44), the creative class (-.40), income levels (-.45), and the Hispanic share of the population (-.32). (As usual I remind readers that correlation does not imply causation, but simply points to associations between variables.) These findings are in line with an earlier New York Times analysis of the geography of Trumpism, which found that Trump counties are correlated with “old economy jobs” and whites who did not graduate high school.


The Republican establishment has increasingly banded around Cruz as the alternative to Trump. And yet Cruz’s county-level geographic profile looks similar to Trump’s. The average Cruz county is a bit younger, less white, more affluent and educated, and has a greater share of creative-class or knowledge workers than the average Trump county. But it has about the same working-class share and roughly the same share of households living in poverty as counties voting for Trump. In addition, Cruz counties are even less dense than Trump’s, with just 81 people per square mile compared to 109 for Trump.


While Kasich is often seen as the less-polarizing alternative to Trump and Cruz, his geographic profile is not all that different. In fact, the average Kasich county is even whiter than the average Trump county (Kasich counties have the strongest correlation to the white share of the population), and has a household income level a little higher than Trump counties, but lower than Cruz counties. Kasich counties also have negative correlations to both the black and Hispanic shares of the population. The average Kasich county has about the same share of blue-collar workers as Trump and Cruz counties, but slightly higher shares of college grads and knowledge and creative-class workers. Where Kasich counties differ the most is by density (the average Kasich county has 390 people per square mile compared to 109 for Trump and 81 for Cruz). Of course, it is important to note that most of Kasich’s support comes from Ohio, and therefore largely reflects its demographics.


The one candidate who significantly differs from the rest in terms of county-level electoral geography is Marco Rubio. The average Rubio county has the highest incomes ($87,641), the highest share of college grads (40.7 percent), and the highest share of creative-class and knowledge workers (42.2 percent). It also has the smallest share of working-class residents (14.9 percent), the smallest share of residents living in poverty, and the smallest share of white residents, not to mention the highest densities by far. Rubio is the only candidate of the four whose average county topped 800 people per square mile—the tipping point where counties switch from red to blue. Rubio is also the only candidate whose counties are positively correlated with income (.25), college-educated adults (.37), creative-class workers (.31), and density (.35), and negatively correlated with the blue-collar working class (-.32). Although the sample of counties is admittedly small, our analysis suggests that Rubio is the only candidate who could have effectively competed with the Democrats for these critical swing counties.


Trump may be the extreme candidate—carrying some of the poorest, whitest, least-educated, least dense counties with the highest shares of the working class—but the places that favor Cruz and Kasich are somewhat similar. Only Rubio performed significantly better in more affluent, well-educated, denser, urban counties with substantial shares of knowledge workers and the creative class. Perhaps Trumpism has shifted the GOP further away from these kinds of places, but Trump is hardly an outlier among the remaining Republican candidates in terms of where his support is located. The GOP—as defined by these three candidates—may be well on its way to becoming a party of not just the people, but the places that are being left behind.

*UPDATE (4/18): After the release of this post, Wasserman updated his dataset to include four additional states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, aggregating voting results for towns and congressional districts to the county level. Since three of these states are located in New England, one might expect the results to change, but they remain strikingly similar, as the following table shows. Support for the three remaining candidates, especially Trump and Cruz, remains concentrated in counties with high shares of working class residents, lower incomes, and especially low densities, while Rubio had greater support in higher income and more educated creative class counties with higher densities. According to our correlation analysis, Kasich counties now look a bit more like Rubio counties, with positive correlations to the creative class, college grads, income, and density.

Candidate Density (per square mile) White (Non-Hispanic) Age (65+) Average Household Income Families Below Poverty Bachelor's Degree or Higher Working Class Creative Class
Trump 112 67.0% 15.0% $65,546 12.4% 26.0% 21.6% 32.5%
Cruz 85 61.3% 12.1% $70,184 12.1% 27.7% 22.2% 33.7%
Rubio 867 47.0% 11.6% $87,641 11.1% 40.7% 14.9% 42.2%
Kasich 367 78.4% 14.2% $67,974 11.2% 28.9% 21.2% 35.0%
Average County 113 64.6% 13.9% $68,652 12.2% 27.6% 21.3% 33.7%

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