Omaha is often a forgotten city by those outside of the region. Situated on the border of one of the reddest states of all, Nebraska, and one of the more conservative leaning blue states, Iowa, it is often overlooked by coastal elites — the epitome of flyover country. But Omaha is also a sprawling metroplex, home to hundreds of thousands of people — well over a million if you want to lump in the capital city of Lincoln just 50 miles to the west. Home of several major companies which include Union Pacific Railroad, ConAgra, and Berkshire Hathaway, known for its outspoken liberal leader Warren Buffett.
It’s also the location of Douglas County, one of only two having gone for Hillary Clinton in the last election (the other being Lincoln’s Lancaster County, which went blue by fewer than 100 votes). This distinction illustrates the divide between the rural and urban parts of America more than any other — the rest of Nebraska was safely red for Donald Trump and is highly rural.
In fact, President Trump won the state’s five electoral votes by a hefty margin of nearly 2-1. It may have been an even more decisive victory if you believe that the majority of the state’s third-party voters, mostly Gary Johnson supporters, had gone into his column, though there is some debate over whether they would have merely stayed home instead.
Nebraska is also one of only two states (the other being Maine) which allows for the division of their electoral votes. Each congressional district gets one electoral vote, in this case three, and the other two are awarded based on who wins the statewide election. In theory, this would dilute the state’s power relative to other states, as it gives it an already small state’s the potential to be a net gain of only one vote for the candidate. In practice, they have only split once since adopting the rules in 1992 — in 2008 President Barack Obama snagged one away from Senator John McCain.
That one vote was in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District which, you guessed it, included most of Omaha. In fact, the district is the most urban in the state — some 97.8% of resident voters live in the city or its environs. But that one vote didn’t matter much, Obama easily won election in 2008 with or without Omaha, and because that was the first electoral vote the Cornhusker State had given to a Democrat since 1964’s landslide Lyndon Johnson win (the last time many red states went blue) President Obama largely ignored the state in 2012, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Much like other major metro areas like Chicago and Las Vegas, Omaha is resented by the rest of the state’s resident for its perceived elitism and ignoring the issues of the rural and small town areas. But unlike Chicago or Las Vegas, Omaha simply doesn’t have the voter base to override the rest of the state — and due to the foresight of the 1992 electoral college split law, likely never will regardless of how large it grows.
The issues that matter to most Nebraskans outside of Omaha are similar to those of other conservative areas — lower taxes, more restrictions on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and generally hawkish policies on foreign policy. On the flip side, Omaha has all of the same issues as any other major city — gun violence, homelessness, and infrastructure issues. The one thing that unites most Nebraskans, however, is corn.
Corn is one of the United States’ most lucrative cash crops. Relatively easy and cheap to grow, and its uses are myriad — from food for humans and livestock to ethanol fuel to even plastics. But to the chagrin of many outside of the state’s industry, corn is also the beneficiary of many federal subsidies, enriching many large-scale farms and helping to keep smaller ones afloat.
Of course, these subsidies from a policy standpoint can be considered suspect at best, and are often debated among economists. Ironically for a conservative state which pushes for less federal interference in business, they have no problem receiving the cash windfall from their neighbors in this form.
The subsidies are largely kept for political reasons at this point. Of course, Nebraska being about as safely red as it can get isn’t the one Washington has its eye on when keeping these in place. No, that would be the neighbor across the Missouri River, Iowa, whose caucuses carry more significant weight than most other states due to their timing in the process.
These days, most Omahans are concerned with their own day-to-day lives, happy to give the federal government about as much thought as they give it. Rural Nebraskans, in turn, are more than happy to give Omaha and its environs just as much of a wide berth so long as they keep their taxes and policies to Douglas County. Some even joke about building a wall around the city in the same way President Trump wants to build one on the border of Mexico. In any case, the state as a whole is almost certain to stay red, and Omaha’s shifting demographics and aging population may soon push it over as well along with Lincoln, painting the entire state red and making it one of the largest GOP cities in the nation.