Analysis: Rural, urban political divide grows in Ohio

Rich Exner -

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The official results from the 2020 presidential election illustrate how sharply the political divide in Ohio has become between the largest urban areas and the rest of the state.

Donald Trump for two elections straight not only won Ohio’s traditionally Republican smaller counties, but often did so by margins double and triple of those achieved by the most recent Republican candidates before him — Mitt Romney and John McCain.

And Trump expanded the GOP map by winning in places such as Lorain, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

This blew away the 479,764-vote advantage Joe Biden built up in the three biggest counties - Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus) and Hamilton (Cincinnati).

Outside of the three big counties (and even including some other counties Biden won), Trump rolled up a 955,433-vote lead before adding in a single vote from Cuyahoga, Franklin or Hamilton.

Overall, the official results show Trump won Ohio by 475,669 votes — or 53.3% to 45.2%.

This wide victory margin occurred despite what has what was a stronger performance by Democrats in the big urban vote.

Combining the tally in the three biggest counties, Biden’s margin of 479,764 easily topped Hillary Clinton’s margin of 407,981 in 2016, and Barack Obama’s margins of 413,590 and 404,448 in 2012 and 2008.

Dems slip in Cuyahoga

Yet, even within the large counties, a dynamic changed in the Trump elections.

While Cuyahoga County still delivered the biggest Democratic support (a margin of 213,477 in Biden’s favor), it slipped a little from Clinton (214,060) and was well off Obama margins (256,613 in 2012 and 258,842 in 2008). Some of this a a result of population loss, some of it because of a smaller turnout versus the Obama years.

Fast-growing Franklin, meanwhile, has grown more Democratic (197,907 in Biden’s favor, up from a margin of 116,223 for Obama in 2008). The same is true for Hamilton County (68,380 margin favoring for Biden, up from 29,683 for Obama in 2008).

By percent, however, Biden had his best performance in Cuyahoga (66.5%). The other six counties that voted for Biden were Franklin (64.9%), Lucas (57.5%), Hamilton (57.1%), Athens (56.7%), Summit (54.1%) and Montgomery (50.3%).

Remove Athens, the largely rural home to Ohio University, from this grouping, and you have Ohio’s six largest counties - all voting for Biden.

Trump’s big swings

The biggest swings in Trump’s favor occurred in the smaller counties, with margins so large in so many of the smaller places that they added up to a big difference overall.

Consider tiny Putnam County, traditionally one of the top Republican counties in Ohio. Trump won there, as does most every GOP candidate in any race. But most don’t win the way Trump has in Putnam, racking up margins of 13,217 and 12,039 in the last two elections vs. margins of 9,403 and 7,791 for Obama’s GOP opponents.

In neighboring Paulding County, Trump beat Biden by 4,873 votes, a margin more than four times of that for McCain in 2008 (1,152 votes). And Trump did a little better in Paulding this time than he did in 2016 (4,407).

In Fulton County, in the far northwest corner of the state, Trump won by 8,610 votes in 2020 and 7,581 in 2016. McCain carried Fulton in 2008, but by only 1,705 votes.

In Lawrence County, at the southern tip of Ohio, Trump won by 12,817 votes this year and 11,715 last time. Again, a Republican win was not unusual, but the margin was. Romney won there by 3,907 votes in 2012 and McCain did so in 2008 by 4,153 votes.

And in eastern Ohio’s Columbiana County, Trump won by 22,367 votes, up from his margin of 19,244 in 2016. Romney won Trumbull by 5,430 and McCain did so by 3,730.

Rich Exner

Rich Exner, data analysis editor for, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. Find other data-related stories at or use this link for other census coverage.

Rich Exner, data analysis editor for, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. Find other data-related stories at or use this link for other census coverage.

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