Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Economic and cultural issues, and Donald Trump, make rural America 'redder' than ever

Rural America is increasingly becoming red, mainly because "Democratic messages are potent in big cities, but simply aren’t selling in rural America," Alan Greenblatt reports for Governing magazine. "Rural voters tend to be more conservative on family and social issues than city dwellers and suburbanites. They have higher rates of property ownership. And they’re more likely to be self-employed, which means they’re less likely to turn to government for solutions."

The trend appears more pronounced this year due to the presumptive Republican nomination of Donald Trump. Nicholas Ricciardi of The Associated Press reports, "There are few divides in the United States greater than that between rural and urban places. Town and country represent not just the poles of the nation's two political parties, but different economic realities that are transforming the 2016 presidential election. Cities are trending Democratic and are on an upward economic shift, with growing populations and rising property values. Rural areas are increasingly Republican, steadily shedding population for decades, and as commodity and energy prices drop, increasingly suffering economically." Riccardi writes mainly from Colorado, identified as one of the states with the biggest economic disparity between rural and urban areas, along with Virginia, South Carolina and Florida.

Another problem is that the Democratic Party has become progressively more liberal, making it more difficult for its officeholders and candidates to connect with rural voters, Greenblatt writes. In the 15 states where rural residents consist of more than half the population, 11 have Republican governors and the other four could have Republicans by the end of the year. Seth McKee, a political scientist at Texas Tech University, told Greenblatt, "Rural voters have become a core component of the GOP, especially white rural voters, which is most of them." Polls show gun and environmental issues are making rural voters more Republican.

Greenblatt writes, "In predominantly rural states, Democratic candidates nowadays struggle to differentiate themselves from the national party’s position on issues such as resource extraction and gun control. In fact, the efforts of state-level Democratic candidates over the years to prove their worth to voters by bashing the national leadership of their own party has served to weaken that party’s brand, says Scott Crichlow, who chairs the political science department at West Virginia University." He told Greenblatt, “There’s a feeling that the national Democratic Party is not representing their interests anymore.” (New York Times map: 2012 presidential election by county. For an interactive version click here)

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