Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Trump won the Rust Belt, and the presidency, by taking on longtime Democratic strongholds outside of big cities.
The key to Trump’s victory? As our Atlantic colleague Ronald Brownstein observed before and after the election, the GOP nominee’s path to the White House involved breaching the “blue wall”—the reliably Democratic states of the industrial Northeast and upper Midwest. Pennsylvania and Michigan have each voted Democratic six consecutive times in general elections since 1996. In Wisconsin, it’s seven times since 1988. Trump turned them all, plus swing-state Ohio.
The maps below suggest how it happened. All in all, Clinton’s campaign held official events in just 14 states, according to the nonprofit FairVote, which has been tracking this year’s presidential campaign events. Nearly a quarter of that time was spent in Florida. In fact, Clinton was apparently so sure of her win in Wisconsin that she herself never once set foot there during her campaign.
Clinton instead focused on Pennsylvania, an emerging battleground, with 26 campaign events there. There were only five events—all attended by her running mate Tim Kaine—in Wisconsin, where polls consistently showed that she had a lead. She made three stops in Michigan, once in Grand Rapids and three in Detroit. (In comparison, she personally visited Florida 19 times.)
Trump, meanwhile, visited 25 states altogether, with stops in several non-swing states he seemingly had little chance of winning (Minnesota, for example) as well as in those he was sure to win (Georgia and Indiana). But he and running mate Mike Pence penetrated deep within the blue wall. Trump, for example, went to Michigan eight times between July and Election Day, hitting not only Detroit and Grand Rapids but smaller cities such as Flint and Dimondale. In Wisconsin, which is set to have its lowest turnout rate since 1996, he held five rallies across the state. And in Ohio, he repeatedly ranged farther than Clinton, visiting Canfield, Delaware, and Canton, along with Cincinnati and Cleveland.
When presidential candidates take all the electoral votes in states they win, says Robert Richie of FairVote, campaigns tend to focus all their resources in just a handful of potentially competitive states and ignore the rest of America. The last time a candidate pledged to visit every state in his campaign was when Richard Nixon ran in 1960.
In particular, as Richie wrote in a 2013 paper comparing the electoral college system with the national popular vote movement, modern candidates tend to ignore any state that they don’t think is in play. That’s the strategy President Barack Obama used successfully in the recent past, but in 2016 it contributed to Clinton’s downfall.
“There were 242 electoral votes in states that the Democrats have won six straight times, but Florida wasn’t one of them,” he says, explaining why the Clinton campaign spent so much time in Florida, with a whopping 36 official events there. “She certainly didn’t stretch the map and ultimately didn’t pay as much attention to her base as Trump did in trying to take it away.”