The point is, across all states in the region, the rural/town/city areas have been behaving in similar ways. So what does this tell us about why Republican performances in Minnesota have lagged? It has to do with the composition of the states. Recall Illinois, which we observed moving away from Republicans. We noted that the mega city of Chicago was moving toward Democrats, with the rest of the state moving toward Republicans. But Chicago and various large cities in Illinois comprise 69% of the vote in the states. In Michigan, 55% of the vote was cast in the Detroit metro area (the large city) with the remainder in small cities, towns, and rural areas. In a place like Michigan, the sharp Republican trend in those latter areas packs a lot more punch.

The two Republican-leaning states in the region – Indiana and Ohio – are even more rural, with big cities casting 48% and 51% of the state’s vote, respectively. In other words, the less punch big cities pack, the more Republican the state becomes. The exception is Wisconsin, where metro Milwaukee packs a relatively light electoral punch at just 32% of the state, yet the state remains purple. But recall that Wisconsin was also the state where small cities were overwhelmingly Democratic; because of Madison and its environs, Republicans don’t reap the same electoral benefit from towns and cities that they do elsewhere in the region.

Iowa stands as an extreme case of this effect. It was the most Democratic state in the region in 1988, but by 2016 was one of the most heavily Republican. Its rural regions are not unusually Republican, and its small towns lean Republican, but they were the most heavily Democratic of our group in 2016. What distinguishes Iowa is the complete absence of a mega city or a large city; 26% of Iowa is located outside a metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area.