Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rural voting and the 2012 elections.

Rural people are stereotyped in several ways. For example, rural people are thought to be pro guns and anti government. Or, rural people are more likely to value family and go to church, than their urban counterparts.

Generalizations are problematic, especially when applied to rural areas--which differ immensely across ethnic, cultural, economic and political lines. However, some generalizations prove true, at least to some extent. Data show that rural people are, on average, more likely to vote Republican.

One study, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, showed that about two-thirds of the rural populations vote Republican in national elections. Furthermore, this pattern has remained fairly static since 1980, except for a period in the early 1990's, when many rural people voted for Bill Clinton. This exception to the pattern can, perhaps, be explained by Bill Clinton's marketing of himself as a guy from the country. The Greenberg survey was conducted in Census Bureau "nonmetropolitan" counties.

The strength of the Republican vote in rural areas is changing as rural populations migrate to urban or suburban areas. As demonstrated in a video by the Reference Population Bureau, rural population decline was a significant trend reflected in the 2010 census:
(M)any rural areas lost population, including much of the Great Plains, and northern and central Appalachia. In fact, nearly half of the 1,104 counties that lost population during the decade were isolated from metropolitan areas, and some of these counties have been losing population for decades. Long term changes in the U.S. economy, along with the recent recession, underlie these patterns of county population growth and decline. For example, in the past ten years, counties whose economies were dependent on farming, mining, or manufacturing, were more likely to lose population.
One question that arises from this trend is: Do rural people take their rural values with them when they leave? Will rural people living in the urban diaspora will continue to vote along conservative lines? Discussions on this topic yield mixed conclusions. Some people think that you can "take a girl out of the country, but can't take the country out of the girl." Others think that rural attitudes are environmental and will diminish in urban settings.

As a recent New York Times article argued, "as the number of rural voters dwindle, so does their influence — which could have broad implications for how the Republican primaries and the general election play out in 2012." At first glance, the New York Times article seems to suggest that people who leave rural areas behind, leave the rural vote there too.

It seems possible that the children of conservative-leaning parents may vote differently if raised in a liberal environment. However, I have a difficult time trying to convince myself that someone entrenched in politically conservative ideology will up and vote liberally as soon as they move to the big city, or suburbs, and leave their Tea Partying neighbors behind. As Professor Lisa Pruitt has observed, "rural mindset and rural values may persist in urban areas of such states if many urban dwellers maintain significant links to rural areas, such as parents and grandparents who still live there."

What all this means for the 2012 elections is hard to surmise definitively. This is especially so considering some of the other trends affecting rural voting behavior, such as the steady growing influx of minorities. For example, the influx of Latinos, who tend to vote more liberally, could change rural voting trends.

On a final note, yet another factor affecting the 2012 vote is changing electoral policies. The New York Times, in a different article, recently reported that Republican controlled legislatures all over the country are enacting new voting booth laws such as, "requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives." The article noted, that along with making it more burdensome for specific populations to vote, perhaps ironically, these restrictions will also make it harder for rural people to vote.

For an in depth analysis of rural voting, see Professor Lisa Pruitt's article, "The Geography of the Class Culture Wars."


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princesspeach said...

Thank you for posting on this topic! Do you think rural people vote Republican because of the issues Republicans vote on? In class we had the discussion about how women in rural areas need access to abortion clinics. One student mentioned that if his town did not have a general hospital, then he would need convincing on why they needed an abortion clinic. I could imagine this scenario dividing along party lines. Maybe the issues Republicans choose, such as little government, resonate more with the rural lifestyle?