In every election, there are solid Democratic voters and solid Republican voters — and then there are the voters who are less sure of where they stand. Those persuasive voters are often the difference between winning and losing and the NBC News poll shows that they are a distinct group that tends to focus in different areas.
There are compelling voters everywhere, but the NBC News poll has consistently shown that they are most strongly based in the suburbs of the suburbs. Those 1,100 counties have a large number of voters up for grabs.
This year, the NBC News poll shows that 43% of all persuasive voters live in those suburbs, far more than in other areas. Together, the major cities of Urban Core counties and nearby Urban Ring counties have about the same number of convincing voters. Rural counties have only about 12% of the nation’s persuasables.
And that Outer Suburb base for persuasive voters isn’t new. Going back to 2010, those Outer Ring suburbs had 42% or 43% of the convincing votes. In short, the cities belong to the Democrats and the countryside to the Republicans, but in the space in between you are most likely to find voters weighing their alternatives.
These types of counties exist in states across the country. The country’s largest cities are characterized by sprawl, and when sprawl grows, the suburbs can become a political force. In 2022, there are a few congressional districts where their impact could be particularly noteworthy.
In Arizona, the 1st congressional district includes Phoenix and a huge tract of land to the north and east. The Cook Political Report currently rates the race as ‘Lean Republican’.
And there’s a long list of races that the Cook Report considers toss-ups that share some of the same kind of suburban/suburban geography. In Colorado, the 8th District extends north from the Denver suburbs to Fort Collins. In Michigan, the 7th district runs from Detroit’s western suburbs to and around Lansing, the state capital. Minnesota’s 2nd district comes from the suburb of St. Paul and extends to the southern border of the state. And in North Carolina, the 13th district flows south of Raleigh and the Research Triangle area in its sprawl.
To be clear: these are not purely ‘suburban’ neighbourhoods. They’re the kind of places where the fringes of urban America give way to newly built subdivisions, lots for sale, and sparsely populated rural land. But it’s that kind of terrain and population that makes them battlefields of 2022.
Are there any signs of where Outer Suburb voters could end up in the latest poll in November? There are arguments for both sides in the numbers.
For Democrats, there are positives about how these voters feel about former President Donald Trump and abortion.
The poll shows that 51% of suburban voters believe the investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Trump should continue. And a majority of voters in those suburbs, 54%, say they disapprove of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped the national right to abortion.
Those numbers are lower than the overall numbers for those issues, but they’re much higher than where Republicans are on those issues, and they can be read as a small Democratic advantage among those voters.
But there are other numbers in the poll that point to a Republican lead in the suburbs when you consider the general mood and how voters in these counties feel about President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy.
Just over half of suburban voters, 53%, say they would prefer this fall’s election to see a GOP-controlled congress. That’s much lower than the number for Republicans, but slightly higher than the overall figure. And 63% of suburban voters say they disapprove of Biden’s way of dealing with the economy, slightly more than voters in general.
But reading answers into those numbers isn’t easy. Most voters’ decisions are ultimately binary (D or R), but their decision-making processes are not straightforward. They are usually the result of a complicated stew of factors.
And the way suburban voters resolve these issues—abortion versus the economy, feelings about Trump versus feelings about Biden—could ultimately be crucial in the House races above. They are also likely to be an important dynamic in statewide competitions, such as the senate and governor races in Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida, states with a lot of sprawl around their major cities and many suburban voters.
Of course, convincing voters won’t be the only major factor this fall. This summer’s Dobbs decision on abortion has shaken polls and could fundamentally change the electorate by changing its makeup. Who actually votes is a big part of any election, but it’s especially important in the interim years.
But persuadables almost always play an important role in the final result, and if you want an idea of where they stand and what impact they’re having, keep an eye on those neighborhoods and fringes of metro areas across the country.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com