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The strong showing for Donald Trump and Brexit among rural voters in both the U.S. and Britain has spawned a sudden interest in the state of mind among people living outside the cities.
The difference between rural and metropolitan voters wasn’t of much concern when these campaigns – presidential in the U.S.; the European Union vote in Great Britain – began. Now, however, the rural vote is relevant again.
Or, as London’s Financial Times puts it:
“It’s simple. The media, pundits, politicians and prediction markets were too London and urban-focused, underestimating rural voters everywhere. Outside Scotland, the vote was almost purely big cities for Remain versus tiny-town England for Leave. Tiny won.”
The case is similar in the U.S., the FT claims, and that is leading many to underestimate Trump’s chances.
The American press is trying to catch up. Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi finds a “divided America,” and nothing is more divided than the vote between rural and urban places. “The urban-rural split this year is larger than anything we’ve ever seen,” said Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who has advised previous GOP campaigns.
Riccardi posits that the source of this division (and rural discontent) is the lopsided economic picture. Cities are growing while rural places are “shedding population and suffering economically as commodity and energy prices drop.”
“More and more economic activity is happening in cities as we move to higher-value services playing a bigger role in the economy,” said Ross Devol, chief researcher at the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank. “As economies advance, economic activity just tends to concentrate in fewer and fewer places.”
“That concentration has brought a whole host of new urban problems — rising inequality, traffic and worries that the basics of city life are increasingly out of the reach of the middle class,” writes Riccardi. “Those fears inform Democrats’ emphasis on income inequality, wages and pay equity in contrast to the general anxiety about economic collapse that comes from Republicans who represent an increasingly desperate rural America.”
Alan Greenblatt of Governing writes about why “rural America is increasingly red.”
Greenblatt notes that rural voters are more likely to be property owners than urban voters. They have more conservative positions on social issues. They are more likely to be self-employed. As a result, University of Maryland political scientist James Gimpel finds that there is “a gaping, canyon-sized urban-rural chasm separating support for the parties.”
“The shift of rural voters toward the GOP is nothing new, but it has intensified over the past several years,” Greenblatt writes. “There’s not much room left for a Democrat to present him or herself to rural voters as a moderate on various economic or social issues. With the national party growing progressively more liberal, that case becomes harder to make.”
Fox News reports that while Trump is doing “remarkably well” among rural voters and working-class white voters in metro areas, he is failing in the suburbs. “Donald Trump speaks in language that many Americans like — but they’re not suburbanites,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
The Hill reports that Hillary Clinton is trying to “shut the door” on Trump in Pennsylvania, a state that though reliably Democratic in years past is now somewhat of a tossup in part because rural voters are becoming more Republican.
Trump has polled well in the state because “the western part of the state is becoming a darker shade of red, especially in pockets of the white rural voters who overwhelmingly back Trump.”
Moreover, supporters of Democrat Bernie Sanders are still reluctant to sign on with Clinton. So, Clinton’s supporters are buying advertising in Pennsylvania and the campaign itself is building out its staff, says The Hill.
And, finally, at the left-leaning Nation, John Nichols writes that “Democrats can compete for rural votes,” but that the party’s platform gives “scant attention this year” to rural issues…. Only one small portion of the draft document—titled “Agricultural Communities” and tucked away in the great big “Bring Americans Together and Remove Barriers to Create Ladders of Opportunity” section—speaks specifically to rural America.
Nichols counts 80 words in that section. We quote from the draft party platform the entire section:
” We will work to build a stronger rural and agricultural economy. Democrats will spur investment to power the rural economy and increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. We will expand local food markets and regional food systems and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times. And we will promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship of our natural resources, while expanding opportunities in rural communities across America.”
Nichols then lists what the platform doesn’t mention: universal broadband, anti-trust enforcement in the agriculture business, country-of-origin labeling, discrimination against African-American farmers, health care, the decline of the postal service or rural education.
Nichols contends Democrats can win rural votes, but they “need to be more aggressive in their advocacy for rural regions.”