Monied Burbs vs. Boom Towns in 2012 Race

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The road to victory in U.S. presidential elections almost always goes through the winding streets and cul-de-sacs of suburban America. In fact, the urban, suburban, rural categorization of voters is one of the most time-tested in American politics, with a strong emphasis usually placed on that middle group as crucial.

But the suburbs are complicated thing, particularly in the modern sprawling communities that make up the U.S. in 2012. The divides within them run deep and data from 16 months of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows just how deep when it comes to President Barack Obamaand presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

To get a handle on the differences in America’s picket-fenced, wealthy countiesPatchwork Nation generally divides them into two types – the largely suburban Monied Burbs and the more exurban Boom Towns. And over the last 16 months, through the many ups and downs of the campaign and the economy, a consistent pattern has emerged: The Monied Burbs are (and have been) Mr. Obama’s turf and the Boom Towns are (and have been) Mr. Romney’s.

Head-to-head polling data from 2011 gave Mr. Obama a six-point edge in the Burbs and Mr. Romney a six-point edge in the Boom Towns. Numbers from the beginning of 2012 show a slight deepening of the divide. Mr. Obama now has a seven-point edge in the Burbs and Mr. Romney an eight-point edge in the Boom Towns.

Mr. Obama won big in 2008, aided in part by economic stresses and Republican fatigue after a two-term presidency for George W. Bush and you could see the impact in the suburban/exurban divide. Mr. Obama won by a double-digit margin in the Monied Burbs and only narrowly lost the Boom Towns by five percentage points.

The stability of that divide is noteworthy and it helps explain why the oddsmakers still expect a close race this fall. The Burbs and Boom Towns both hold more than 60 million people and make up big chunks of key states – like Ohio, Florida, Coloradoand Virginia.

The divide in suburban/exurban presidential preference isn’t new. It’s played an important role in recent presidential races like 2000 and 2004. It’s based on some very real economic and cultural differences. And those differences could be more obvious and significant in 2012. For the rest of this week's Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's Web site.