Deepest Trump country has only recently recovered the jobs it lost because of the Great Recession.
We define “Trump country” as the broad confederation of rural areas, midsize towns and suburbs where Donald Trump earned the highest share of the presidential vote in 2016.
It includes about 20 percent of the labor force.
We’ve weighted county vote shares by labor force size to account for the fact that Trump won thousands of counties with tiny populations while Hillary Clinton's support was concentrated in a handful of places with much larger populations.
At a minimum, these counties gave more than 60 percent of their votes to Trump. A handful, all tiny places in Texas and the Great Plains, broke the 90 percent barrier.
Together, Trump country covers 60 percent of the land area of the southern 49 states (we excluded Alaska because of how that state’s votes are reported).
Only in the past year has the 12-month average employment level clawed back above its pre-recession baseline. That’s about five years after the equivalent group of most ardent Clinton supporters, and about three years after the groups in the middle.
We used a 12-month average to adjust for seasonal variation in the job market, which tends to be stronger in rural, Trump-supporting areas. If we hadn’t, the recovery point would be earlier — but it also would reverse course a couple of times.
Trump cleaved the least-recovered counties off the rest of the country. His appeals to voters’ racial, cultural and economic anxieties pulled in the most economically polarized base of any candidate in recent history.
Trump’s voters were slowest to recover in part, because he reached out to voters who felt left behind by what will soon be the second-longest economic expansion on record.
If we define “John F. Kerry country” or “John McCain country” in the same way we define Trump country above and carry those hypothetical geographies through to the present day, we see Trump’s base had a tougher time recovering from the Great Recession than the base of any other presidential candidate since 2000.
The other dynamic at play above is that the Great Recession was also a Republican recession. It’s the first downturn since 1990 in which the hardest-core Republican areas trailed Democratic cities during the recovery. And Trump captured more of those aggrieved Republicans than any other candidate since 2000.
In particular, sharp gains among suburbs, small cities and towns and rural areas set Trump apart. They formed far more of his core 20 percent than they did for George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney.
In the popular vote, those areas were offset by a decline in support among the large, fast-growing metro areas that house the large majority of the country’s population. The distinction is difficult to see below because each geography’s bars are proportional.
Many of the towns that formed the reddest core of Trump’s support still haven’t recovered. Exclude the faster-growing Trump-supporting counties that lie within metropolitan areas, and recovery in Trump country would still be a long way off.
More so than any other recent Republican candidates, Trump’s core supporters came from areas the U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified as dominated by farming and manufacturing. Manufacturing jobs, in particular, are a long way from recovering from their recession-era losses. They probably never will.
By a raw county count, mining areas (which include oil and gas) supported Trump by a ratio of 10 to 1, but the population-adjusted trend is skewed by Harris County, Tex. Home to Houston and the third most populous U.S. county, Harris gave 54 percent of its vote to Clinton.
The other big mining towns are Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Trump got the majority of the vote in both places but not a high enough share to put either in the top 20 percent.
Overall, it’s probably a coincidence that the areas that supported Trump most have finally recovered from the recession during the first year of his presidency.
Such places suffered in the final years of President Barack Obama’s administration, but much of the pain came from fluctuations in global commodity markets. They’ve likewise rebounded in Trump’s first year, along with the global economy, but their overall job growth rates still trail the rest of the country.