Kentucky's Rural-Urban Divide


Republicans have been having a lot of success in rural portions of the country while Democrats have been successful in the cities.

The divide between rural and urban voters has been growing more “stark” in recent years according to this New York Times article. The article shows that more rural voters went for Trump in 2016 than for the Republican nominee in 2012. And the article’s dire prediction is that these divisions will likely widen.

Democratic pickups in the Congressional races of 2018 were driven by suburban voters. Some, like the Upshot, have gone so far as to characterize the pickups as a “rout” in suburban America. The six classifications from rural to urban are borrowed from CityLab. Republicans no longer hold any urban districts. Democrats may have fared well in suburban areas but suburban voters’ loyalty remains tentative at best.


Using the recent Kentucky results in the 2018 house races a similar methodology to the New York Times was tried. Three data sets were employed. The first was the Secretary of State’s election results for the 2018 races. The second was the GIS data from the Legislative Resources Commission. And the third data set was the election registrations data.

The GIS data furnished the area per district and total voter registrations were used as a proxy for population. Registrations were divided by area for a population density. Rather than use the six categories like CityLab, the districts were divided by groups of 20 into five quintiles.



Notice that the Democratic seats are concentrated on the right (urban) while Republican seats to the left (rural & rural suburban). The breakdown is not nearly as clear as in the New York Times article. Democrats hold all but three districts in the urban area, but still hold a number of districts in the rural areas as well. Below is a state map of House districts colored based on population density from rural to urban.



Democratic success in the 2018 Congressional races came from the suburban districts. “The suburbs are lodged in between [rural and urban districts], with many economically conservative but socially liberal voters who have a foot in each party — or for whom neither party is a perfect fit.” If population density is the driver of political preferences, then Democrats may find their greatest successes in the “dense suburban” and “suburban” districts above.

(Sorry about the crazy color palettes. There’s a reason, but it would take too long to explain!)