Since 1940, only once has Ohio voted for the losing candidate (Nixon over Kennedy in 1960). Yet, regardless of its winning streak, Ohio often grabs the headlines during elections. Maybe it’s the consistent gerrymandering attempts or the extremely popular republican governor deciding to vote against his own party.  Whether it’s the state’s consistency to be inconsistent or the rigor and stress that goes into deciding which candidate to offer its 18 electoral votes, we cannot deny how important Ohio is to the presidential election. 

With all the drama whilst swinging from red to blue and back, we tend to miss the intricacies of the state. Like how Ohio nearly matches the demographics of the United States, however nearly 60 percent of the minority population live within 20 miles of the Cleveland and Columbus metropolitan areas. In contrast, over 135 cities in Ohio are over 90 percent white. 

Here we attempt to approach the nuance in the cities, the burbs and the rural areas that could impact the election in November. 

The United Front of Urban Ohio

Ohio’s more densely populated areas like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus are integral for the Democratic party’s chance of success in the next election. Not only do the combination of the 10 largest counties make up nearly 50%  of the total population but they also represent over 75% of the non-white population in the state. 

Ohio’s population is 81% white and 13% black. Yet, Cleveland has a 63.5% white population and a 30.5% black population. Across the United States, this diversity most often leads to greater success for Democrats. Yet, while Obama won by a margin of  87% among black voters in 2012, Hillary’s margin dropped to 80% among black voters across the country. It is hard to directly point to the reason for this decline in enthusiasm for Clinton among black voters, but if Clinton would have won by the same margin as Obama in 2012, she would have added an additional 102,690 votes. This dramatic increase in votes would not have won her Ohio, but the election would have been far closer than it turned out to be. 

In general, Democratic voter turnout dropped 1.7% in these urban counties between 2012 and 2016. Nowhere else was this more clear than in Cuyahoga county, the home of Cleveland and second largest county in Ohio. While there was a total loss of 33,087 votes throughout Cuyahoga county from 2012 to 2016, Clinton saw all of that plus more. Clinton lost 49,002 in democratic votes compared to Obama’s 2012 election. 

While Cleveland is certainly an outlier among the typically Democratic regions in Ohio, it is still representative of the general trend in urban voting population across Ohio. Out of the ten most populous counties in Ohio only three counties saw an increase in turnout for the democratic candidate, and two swung to Trump – Butler & Warren counties. 

Use it or Lose it Law

In 2018, the U.S. The Supreme court upheld a voter purging law by a 5-4 vote. The controversial Ohio law, “Use it or Lose it” has had a large adverse effect on Democratic voters. In the 1990s, this law was put in place in order to help refresh voters every few years depending on your recent political activity. As it stands, if an Ohioan does not vote in two federal election cycles over a six year period, they are purged of their state registration. 

This law presented its influence in the last midterm election cycle. Five percent of the voters in counties that backed Obama with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2012 had their registration dropped due to inactivity by the 2018 election cycle. In contrast, only 2.5 percent of voters purged in counties where Obama won less than 40 percent of the vote. Furthermore, this law particularly affected black areas In heavily black areas of Cincinnati there was a 10 percent purge of registered voters compared to only 4 percent in the suburban area of Indian Hill. The implications of this law for the upcoming election are intimidating. Historically, voter turnout for midterm elections are between 10-17 percent lower than presidential elections. With an already low turnout for Democrats in 2016, there is an increased likelihood of voter purging ahead of the 2020 election.  In a state with crucial implications for the national results, voter suppression or restriction laws such as the “use it or lose it” law could have lasting ramifications for the country.

Suburban Split

The demographics of suburban Ohio are a mixture of the urban population with the rural population. For example, in the suburbs of Cleveland, 72.8 percent of the suburban population is white compared to a 20.7 percent black population. Unlike the metropolitan areas in Ohio, as you widen the view from city centers, the margins become tight between the two parties. This trend is shown very clearly in Cuyahoga County.

Ohio 2016 Election Heat Map

This map shows the narrowing of Democratic and Republican victories that occur when you make your way into suburban areas such as Solon and Strongsville. Clearly, the further you get from the city, the more Republican the voters become. 

The theme is that suburban votes across the state are difficult to predict as a whole. Other variables such as education level are more accurate predictors within each suburban town. Democrats won support in 2016 in counties where a majority of voters had a bachelors degree. Rocky River,  located along the lakeshore outside Cleveland, where nearly 55 percent of voters have at least a bachelor’s degree went to the Democrats in both 2016 and 2018. In contrast, towns like Parma, also outside Cleveland, where only 18 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree was won by Trump.

Trump, however, struggled to find support from wealthy suburbs outside the largest cities in Ohio. For example, upper middle class suburban areas such as Westerville, outside Columbus, favored Hillary. This contradicts Westerville’s Republican leaning trend. In 2004 Bush beat Kerry by 23 points. Yet, Hillary beat Trump by 4 percentage points. The graph below shows this slow trend shift in Westerville.

Voting Trend in Westerville between parties from 2004-2016

Furthermore, Trump lost nine out of the ten of the wealthiest suburbs in Franklin county. In Hamilton county, home to Cincinnati, Trump lost 10 of the richest suburbs. The trend has been discouraging for Trump’s chances within the suburbs as the 2018 election saw six suburban state legislatures seats swinging to Democrats one of which included the 12th Congressional District which hadn’t voted a Democrat into office for 36 years. 

The story in this election can be different depending on the key issues for each suburban family. The issues that seem to be most pressing going into next week are Coronavirus concerns, and climate change policies. 

Similar to the rest of the country Ohio is seeing a major uptick in daily cases seeing its highest total during the pandemic occur on October 24th at 2,858 daily cases. Currently, fifty school districts are holding classes remotely totaling nearly 300,000 students. Undoubtedly, Trump and Biden have differing opinions on how the situation should be solved. Trump has taken a laissez faire approach pushing reopening and silencing concerns. Biden wishes to crack down on reopenings and formulate a plan including policies like a nationwide mask mandate and more testing. Depending on how this current pandemic is interpreted, voters may support Trump’s undying attempts to keep the economy going. However, those who are frustrated by their current reality–one filled with consistent uncertainty and change– may opt for Biden’s enforcement of scientific guidelines.  

The candidates’ approach to climate change is also undoubtedly shifting suburban voters’ decisions. Trump has continued to deny that humans contribute to global warming. This fact may actually help persuade certain suburban Ohioans to his side. The oil-driven automobile industry is central to the Ohio suburban area. In total, the automobile industry employs nearly 150,000 individuals. All of the long-established American auto manufacturers – Chrysler, Ford, GM – operate facilities outside Ohio cities. Suburban areas such as Lordstown are home to Chevrolet and Pontiac plants. This may explain why Lordstown’s Trumbull County swung from its democratic ties to favor for Trump in 2016. 

Joe Biden’s climate change plan focuses on creating a supposed 1 million jobs in electric vehicle manufacturing. Ohioans may be fearful that the green plans proposed by Biden may take away a staple of the Ohio economy. Are these new proposals enough to change the minds of thousands of longtime automobile manufacturers? Or will Trump’s rhetoric of disbelief in a sustainable reality keep them at bay?

Rural: Industry in Ohio

In 2016, 80 out of 88 counties supported Donald Trump and Mike Pence in 2016. The majority of these counties represent the rural farming and manufacturing towns in Ohio. Additionally, nearly all of these counties had higher voter turnout for Trump in 2016 than for Romney in 2012. And all but one county in Ohio had lower voter turnout for Hillary in 2016 compared to Obama in 2012. It goes without saying, if rural voters show up, expect most of them to vote Republican.

In 2016, rural Ohio was the beating heart of Trump’s America. 2.9M out of 5.5M votes cast in 2016 were in these rural counties. Although, on average, these counties continue to lean republican in 2020, both parties have much to gain in rural Ohio. Farmers, manufacturing workers and generations of white, low-to-middle income families cover the area. 

Over 12 percent of Ohio’s workforce is made up of manufacturing roles, allowing the state’s $107.95 billion total manufacturing output to be the third highest in the country. Regardless of the current output, the heavy loss of manufacturing jobs in both rural and urban areas since 2000 have been drastic. Cuyahoga county has lost nearly 50,000 jobs since 2000. And Montgomery County, home of Dayton, lost nearly half of the 57,000 manufacturing jobs that existed in 2000. Trump capitalized on these losses in 2016 by adamantly opposing NAFTA, on which he blamed the loss of 4.2 million manufacturing jobs across the country. Since Trump was elected, the country has seen moderate success in bringing back manufacturing jobs. Of the 2.1 percent increase in total manufacturing jobs between 2016 to 2019 (517,000 in total), approximately 3 percent have come to Ohio. This increase may be enough to convince voters that Trump remains the candidate that will continue to grow the manufacturing industry.

Biden may have a more difficult path in convincing the blue collar workers that his plan will be beneficial for the manufacturing worker. The Biden campaign pledges to invest $1.7 trillion  in new technology and green energy across states that depend on coal and natural gas. This shift is difficult for many to imagine. Yet, Ohio has witnessed a trend away from traditional manufacturing and into technology and automation in recent years. This may be the canary in the coal mine for the blue collar workers across Appalachia and central Ohio. 

The rural Ohioan has a lot to consider regarding international policy as well. Almost 19 percent of all jobs in Ohio are from foreign companies. Foreign direct investment through as well as trade policy are big contributors to quality of life in rural areas. Global supply and demand are key for the manufacturing sectors we mentioned above. Tariffs on foreign powers, like China can be good for those who create and supply materials for the US consumer. However, many of those manufacturers and farmers supply to global consumers. Aircraft, automobiles, chemicals and soybeans are all produced in Ohio but exported across the world. 

Whether it be restructuring trade through things like the USMCA or creating better relationships with global leaders, each party has a listening ear in rural Ohio. If the Biden campaign can entice a few percentage points more out of these rural regions, the combination with the urban areas of the state will carry the Democratic ticket to victory. However, the steadfast love for Trump in rural counties likely means a higher turnout with farmers and manufacturing workers. This could prove to be another Trump victory in the state. Only time (and votes) will tell.