President-elect Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla.

How they voted

County Romney Trump

Bledsoe County, Tenn. 3,022 (69%) 3,621 (78%)

Catoosa County, Ga. 17,858 (75%) 20,860 (79%)

Chattooga County, Ga. 5,452 (69%) 6,457 (78%)

Dade County, Ga. 4,471 (74%) 5,047 (81%)

DeKalb County, Ala. 18,316 (77%) 21,779 (83%)

Gordon County, Ga. 13,197 (78%) 15,171 (80%)

Grundy County, Tenn. 2,516 (59%) 3,626 (76%)

Jackson County, Ala. 14,422 (70%) 16,843 (80%)

Marion County, Tenn. 6,272 (60%) 7,680 (71%)

McMinn County, Tenn. 12,967 (73%) 14,673 (78%)

Meigs County, Tenn. 2,734 (69%) 3,337 (77%)

Monroe County, Tenn. 11,731 (72%) 13,361 (78%)

Murray County, Ga. 8,443 (75%) 10,340 (83%)

Polk County, Tenn. 4,108 (68%) 5,097 (78%)

Rhea County, Tenn. 7,802 (74%) 8,650 (79%)

Sequatchie County, Tenn. 3,541 (69%) 4,434 (78%)

Walker County, Ga. 16,247 (74%) 18,938 (79%)

Whitfield County, Ga. 19,305 (72%) 21,514 (71%)

Total 172,404 (72%) 201,428 (78%)

It ain't no secret the rural counties around here were going to support Donald Trump.

This is the South. A Democrat hasn't moseyed in and stolen Alabama, Georgia or Tennessee since 1996, when Hillary Clinton's husband was on the ticket. Still, though, the support for Trump this year was stronger than expected.

Among rural counties in the tri-state area, Trump received about 201,000 votes. That's a 17 percent bump from 2012, when about 172,000 people cast ballots for Romney. To be clear, people weren't exactly switching from Democrat to Republican.

The real difference? In a year when voter turnout across the country was down, people in rural areas around here flocked to the polls more than they did four years ago.

Since Trump's surprising victory over Clinton on Tuesday, this has become a key point among pundits: The Republican candidate energized rural voters more than pollsters expected. It's hard to measure this effect nationwide, but the Cook Political Report offered a useful yardstick.

Among counties with a Whole Foods, according to the analysis, Trump won 22 percent. Among counties with a Cracker Barrel, he won 76 percent.

Why was this the case? Why did a New York businessman who inherited millions from his father appeal to people in rural areas? The Times Free Press surveyed some readers to try to get a clear picture.


Jack Hart, 81, LaFayette, Ga.

"His answer was different from the same old, same old. Anybody could have run, but he knew how to handle a crowd. He was like a carnival barker. It's like a TV personality. He can take a negative and turn it into a positive as quick as anybody I ever saw."

Rick Breeden, 52, Rising Fawn, Ga.

"This is someone who comes across as: 'You can't manipulate me. You don't know me.' He is an elitist. But still, he brought that message. He wants to see a different America, a better America. People in the inner cities are not in touch with the logical reality of the country. You get that more in the rural part. You honestly do."

Scotty Vaughn, 40, Fort Payne, Ala.

"(Romney) would have won if he was bold and said some of the things that Donald Trump said to Hillary Clinton in a debate. That mentality Trump has — 'I'm going to get this done' — I think that drove people out in rural Alabama. That's how we are. It resonated with people in our area. If I have a problem with someone, I'm not going to beat around the bush; I'm going to come straight up to you."

Mark Cochran, 30, Englewood, Tenn.

"Folks in conservative areas feel as though the county is slipping away from them, from their founding principles. A lot of folks thought this was our last shot. Some of it had to do with Trump. But a lot of it had to do with: Our time is now or never."

Solomon Missouri, 35, pastor of Hemphill AME Zion Church in Summerville, GA.

"It's a racism that's not processed through. They don't see themselves working through a racist ethic, but it is. If this person stands for you, and this is a person you support, everything that's in him is in you. Either you say you can't support him, or you have to own it: 'I have a problem with these things; I have a problem with these people.'"

Clemmie Black, 89, Lyerly, Ga.

"Some people just don't like the idea of a woman president. I think that was the main thing: We don't like change."

Randall Davis, 56, Ducktown, Tenn.

"It doesn't have anything to do with Trump himself. They're just tired of the policies of the Obama administration. They haven't done anything for the counties around here. This Obamacare was supposed to be really great. But I know people around here that don't have medical insurance, my brother included."

Cherise Miller, 78, Ringgold, Ga.

"I'm not saying we're smarter than everybody else, but look at the picture. I just know I have a lot of common sense. Trump represents my Christian views. He represents my political views. The Democrats (of my grandfather's day) did not push the homosexual agenda, the abortion agenda. We were raised better. The parents today, a lot of them, they're not raising their kids right. They're leaving it up to the schools."

State Rep. Ron Travis, 62, Rhea County, Tenn.

"I don't especially think it might have been Donald Trump. The rural areas, they're tired of being overlooked and not having the things that the cities are having. The infrastructure that we don't have. The cities have it. We don't. The broadband connection. The roads. The bridges. We have to fight for what we get."

Iva Russell, declined to give age, Monteagle, Tenn.

"He said a lot of things that were brash and people were thinking that they didn't want to say because they were too polite. They admired that. So many people tell them things they want to hear — slick talkers, I guess you would say. I think our people are just over that."

Phyllis Williams, 79, Rossville, Ga.

"My son has a very, very small business. I felt like Donald Trump would help small businesses a lot more than Hillary Clinton. I think she's after the big bucks. This county thrives on a lot of small business."

Bobby Teems, 59, LaFayette, Ga.

"The rural communities got tired of the lies and the political games that were coming out of Washington. People thought they couldn't have an impact or an effect on that. The election here will send a message."

Joanne Barksdale, 75, Ringgold, Ga.

"He's just really our voice. We've been talking about this for a long time but couldn't do nothing. How could he pick up on the language we've been using?"

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.