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By Dante Chinni

Poll numbers show that while the nation has grown more politically “liberal” overall since 2008, as we noted here recently, some places with strong Republican voting tendencies have moved in the opposite direction, becoming more “conservative.”

And the differences between those places and others could create present challenges for Republicans in 2016, making their political messaging difficult.

An analysis of Gallup polling data since 2008 shows that counties with large numbers of evangelical adherents and counties based heavily in and around Appalachia have grown slightly more conservative, moving further away from the national average in their political philosophy.

Those counties, Evangelical Hubs and Working Class Country counties as defined by the American Communities Project, vote heavily Republican and are crucial to any GOP candidate seeking the White House, particularly in primaries. Those counties are based throughout the southeast and will play a big role in the massive March 1 SEC Super Primary, as you can see on this map in light purple and dark blue.

Nationally, the percentage of people self-identifying as conservative has fallen by about three points in the Gallup data, from 38.5% in 2008 to 35.4% in 2015. But in Evangelical Hub counties the number has climbed from 47.4% to 47.7%. And in largely Appalachian Working Class Country counties the number has gone from 44.7% to 45.3%.

The growing divides highlight the challenge Republican candidates may have in winning swing voters in 2016.

The size of the “conservative” increases in those counties is small, but the larger point is those places are bucking the national trend of a decline in conservatives. Those declines carry through to most of America, particularly big city counties and suburban counties, as you can see on this chart. Suburban counties are particularly important because of the large populations they hold.

The net result is the places that are the most Republican in their voting habits are drifting further away from the American political mainstream, according to this data.

In 2008, the Evangelical Hubs were about 9 percentage points more conservative than the nation as a whole, 47.4% versus 38.5%. In 2015 they are about 12 percentage points more conservative, 47.7% versus 35.4%.

The Appalachian Working Class Country counties were about 6 percentage points more conservative than the nation in 2008, 44.7% versus 38.5%. Today they are about 10 percentage points more conservative 45.3% to 35.4%.

The growing divides highlight the challenge Republican candidates may have in winning swing voters in 2016.

In effect, the numbers suggest that Republicans will have to straddle a widening gap between their more rural base voters, who they need to win over in the primaries and turn out in November of 2016, and moderate suburban voters, who they’ll need to reach out to win the general election.

It’s a long list of drivers pushing these county-level political shifts. As we noted last week, you can see divides on social issues like gay marriage and marijuana legalization, but other polling suggests community-base divides also exist along issues like global warming.

In other words, any leftward shift in American politics over the last few years has not been uniform. There are still conservative bastions scattered around the country, particularly in the South, that have not joined in the larger leftward lean.

Republicans may welcome that news, but those conservative strongholds may make it more difficult for their nominee in 2016.