Rural Americans increasingly vote Republican because they resent urban elites who overlook or disrespect them and who they think get a disproportionate share of economic opportunity, two political scientists in Maine and Utah say in a new peer-reviewed research paper and in The Washington Post.
"Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call 'geographic inequity' — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today," Nicholas Jacobs of Colby College and Kal Munis of Utah Valley University write in a Post op-ed.
This ground has been plowed before, most notably by Katherine Cramer of the University of Wisconsin, and the authors build on her research and interviews with 27 groups of rural residents of Wisconsin. The news study firms up the theory with data from polls in 2018, 2019 and 2020 that take the research beyond "a relatively small number of communities in a handful of states," they write. "We find that rural beliefs about geographic inequity, or what we and others call rural resentment, are widespread across the country. . . . For example, in 2020, we found that voters harboring high levels of rural resentment were 35 percent less likely to say they would vote for the Democratic U.S. House candidates than non-resentful rural voters, all else equal. In other words, rural resentment was among the most powerful factors in pushing respondents to vote for Republicans."The authors write, "Is this resentment justified? Certainly, rural areas are sicker and poorer than nonrural America. And rural areas have undoubtedly lost many sources of meaning, money and respect over the past three decades. Still, some Democrats may want to dismiss resentment as unjustified white anger. After all, rural states have more power than their numbers would warrant in institutions like the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College. At least in politics, rural voices are already amplified. But voters form judgments based on what they believe to be true. And most rural voters resent what they perceive to be real geographic inequity. Perceptions, not facts, drive political behavior."