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Poll: Bright Spots for Hillary Clinton in Rural America

As 2016 approaches one of the big questions for Hillary Clinton is whether she can reach beyond President Barack Obama’s coalition of young people and minorities to attract more white rural voters. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll suggests she has an opportunity to do that.

The poll shows that Clinton comes close to matching Obama’s support in big cities and dense suburban areas. But her real advantage may be in more rural communities where views of Clinton are far less negative than they are for Obama.

The breakdown of the poll results was performed with the county typology of the American Communities Project at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and while 2016 is still almost a year away, the numbers are good news for Clinton.

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In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 62% Big City counties said they had positive feelings about Obama versus 61% for Clinton. And in Urban Suburb counties, Obama also does a little better 50% positive for him versus 48% for Clinton.

But out of those core urban areas, Ms. Clinton’s advantage is her negatives are much lower as you can see on these charts. Click the buttons on the top left to see the results from different areas.

In rural conservative areas – Graying America, Evangelical Hub and Working Class Country counties – 64% have negative views of Obama, but only 48% have negative views of Clinton. And in the huge swath of counties known as Rural Middle America in the ACP, 53% have negative view of Mr. Obama, but only 40% have negative views of Clinton.

You can see all the county types on this map.

To be clear, these aren’t great numbers. Clinton’s negatives are still fairly high in those places, but they suggest voters in those counties could possibly be open to her candidacy – at least compared to how they feel about Obama.

Rural reach is particularly important for Clinton because political analysts have wondered if she can ultimately match the enthusiasm and votes Obama drew from big urban centers. These poll numbers suggest that even if Clinton can’t match that enthusiasm, she may be able to draw some support from other places – even if she can’t win them.

Of course, polls always represent just a snapshot of a moment in time. It could be that Obama’s negatives are so much higher than Clinton’s in those rural communities because they also tend to vote Republican so they are more likely to have a strong dislike for a sitting Democratic president.

And it could be that if Clinton were to announce her candidacy for 2016 and eventually win the Democratic nomination, those communities would develop a similar distaste for her.

But for now, this latest poll offers some bright spots for Clinton as she decides whether to join the 2016 field.