By Hannah Hartig, John Lapinski, Stephanie Psyllos and Jonathan Smith
The competitiveness of the 2016 race is directly tied to one critical group of voters that both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns covet -– those who live in the suburbs.
The race is close in suburban American, and the campaigns are subsequently conducting their most intensive get-out-the-vote efforts in those areas. How suburban voters cast their ballots will be pivotal in determining who wins the presidency.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
By mapping eight weeks of data from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll by zip code into rural, urban and suburban categories, it is clear that slight shifts in the presidential race are occurring mostly in suburban areas across the United States. Suburban voters have consistently made up a sizable 40 percent of the total sample each week.
Among suburban voters in the most recent tracking poll, Trump led by 2 points – 47 percent to 45 percent. The group has remained competitive across eight weeks. Just before the Democratic convention, Trump led Clinton among suburban voters by 7 points. At this point, the race was nearly tied with Clinton holding 46 percent to Trump’s 45 percent. Following the Democratic National Convention, Clinton began to make up ground and reached a 6-point lead among suburbanites in mid-August.
Urban voters, on the other hand, have supported Clinton over Trump by at least 20 points over the past eight weeks. In the latest tracking poll results, 62 percent of urban voters said they support Clinton and only 31 percent said they support Trump. Clinton has consistently led the Republican nominee among city-dwellers; these results are expected as these voters are typically more racially and economically diverse and historically tend to vote Democratic in national elections.
Just as Clinton leads Trump in urban areas, Trump comfortably leads Clinton among rural voters. In the latest tracking poll results, Trump had a 24-point advantage over Clinton among these voters, 58 to 34 percent. Generally, rural voters tend to identify as Republican more than voters in densely populated areas.
While urban and rural support for Clinton and Trump has remained steady for months, suburban voter support is fluctuating between Clinton and Trump week-to-week. If this pattern holds, securing suburban voters will be important to winning on Election Day in November.
The NBC News Data Analytics Lab analysis aggregated eight weeks of data from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll from July 17 through September 11 and mapped respondent zip codes into suburban, rural and urban definitions constructed by Great Data .
John Lapinski is the Director of the Elections Unit at NBC News