Republicans enjoy strong rural appeal, but cities are a problem

Romney concedes
Mitt Romney waved to the crowd before conceding the election on Nov. 7, 2012, in Boston.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Republican soul-searching that followed the 2012 elections was so bleak that some of the party faithful described it as an autopsy. Among its findings were that the Republican Party needed better messaging and had not done enough to appeal to Hispanic voters.

But the party's problems are not only with certain demographics of voters. Evidence from the last election cycle suggests that Republicans need to broaden their appeal geographically, too — namely, in the cities.

According to entrepreneur and software developer Dave Troy, almost all of the nation's least populated counties voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, while nearly all of the most populated counties voted to reelect President Obama. As he puts it, the Republicans have a problem with population density:

"At about 800 people per square mile, people switch from voting primarily Republican to voting primarily Democratic," Troy writes in his blog. "Put another way, below 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Republican. Above 800 people per square mile, there is a 66% chance that you voted Democrat. A 66% preference is a clear, dominant majority."

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What do these numbers mean for the GOP's future?


What Republicans Are Really Up Against: Population Density
As our own Sommer Mathis noted the morning after the election, county-level election results show that cities are very, very blue. "The math of assuming cities will go to Democrats and thus not bothering to craft a message aimed at the people who live there is just a losing game going forward for Republicans," she wrote. "And it's only going to get worse as urban populations increase and become more concentrated." After examining a series of electoral maps, Emily Badger also concluded that electoral power is "concentrated in those blue-black patches, one of which strings all the way from southern Connecticut to Washington, D.C. These are the places where people live densely together, where they require policies and an ideology that Republicans lately have not offered." (AtlanticCities)

The GOP and the City
The 2012 party platform, by contrast, had no city-oriented policies whatsoever and used the word "urban" just twice — once to decry the current administration's allegedly "replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit." (City Journal)

Republicans And Diversity: How The GOP's Rural Base Spoils The Party
In small metro areas (nine percent of the country), where the population dips below 250,000, Romney was finally able to build a vote margin over Obama. Romney carried these areas 55 percent-43 percent. And outside of metro areas, where population density continues to fall, Romney did even better. In micropolitan areas — think of these areas as the small town sections of rural America — Romney beat Obama by 18 percentage points, 58 percent-40 percent. Micropolitans are another 10 percent of the U.S. population. And in the rest of rural America, the part that is most isolated from population centers and the most spread out, Gov. Romney bested Obama by 23 points, 61 percent-38 percent. These areas, despite the vast land area they cover, contain only 6 percent of the population (which is why, if you look at county maps of election returns, so much of it is colored red despite President Obama's solid victory). (Ruy Teixeira, writing at