Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Keep It Rural, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Like what you see? Join the mailing list for more rural news, thoughts, and analysis in your inbox each week.
Last week’s elections marked a win for Democrats on several fronts, from the governor race in Kentucky, to abortion rights in Ohio. The results rolled in as the Biden administration wrapped up what looked to be a largely successful two-week national tour highlighting investments in rural America, not coincidentally an opportunity to connect with rural votes ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
But while these wins could bode well for President Biden in next year’s race against the most likely Republican candidate, Donald Trump, Biden’s success will likely hinge in part on his administration’s continued outreach to rural voters, who have proved time and again to be key players in elections and could be swingable in 2024. And this is where Democrats risk messing up big time.
The party has long struggled to gain rural people’s votes. It wasn’t always this way (see: the progressive party’s long labor and union history in rural America), but in recent decades, Democrats have gotten really good at alienating rural voters. This plays out both politically and personally for folks (two things that often become one and the same).
Barbara Kingsolver highlighted this alienation in an interview with The Guardian about her Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Demon Copperhead”: “The news, the movies, TV, it’s all manufactured in cities about city people. We’re nothing. We don’t see ourselves at all. And if we do show up, it’s as a joke, the hillbillies. We are the last demographic that progressive people still mock with impunity.”
President Biden has made an impressive effort to bridge this gap, but years of rural America showing up as a joke in the national eye is a wound that may heal slowly.
And Biden doesn’t have long to resolve this: the 2024 presidential election is just under one year from today. A poll from the Center for Rural Strategies (publisher of the Daily Yonder) suggests that issues like affordable housing, food prices, and corporate greed could be what sways rural voters one way or the other.