A recent study done by the Washington Post labeled counties based on how urban versus rural they are. The study did so in order to track partisanship of voting trends over time. By comparing each county’s votes to the national average in subsequent elections, the authors were able to determine how voting trends in different types of counties – urban versus rural – had changed since 1988.
In short, between 1988 and the 2012 election, heavily urban counties became more Democrat by 32 percent; heavily rural counties became more Republican by 11 percent. This shift happened incrementally with each election year. The study also points out that far more counties are considered heavily rural, but fewer over all rural votes, explaining why the national average in all counties in presidential elections has become more Republican. The article concludes by stating:
If you plot every county's urban-versus-rural divide by the per-election average change in the vote, the pattern is clear: more urban areas vote have been voting more Democratic.
And vice versa. These findings come to life in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. The author, Silas House, describes the idyllic, rural, coal town of Berea, Kentucky where he grew up. The City Council of the ethnically diverse town founded by abolitionists recently voted against a city ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The author compares this to larger, more progressive cities, such as Louisville. Once you step outside larger cities, which have passed their own antidiscrimination ordinances, it is perfectly legal to refuse service, employment, and housing to LGBT individuals. While in many places protections vary from place to place, House views this as indicative of where the struggle for equality lays – a struggle not between political parties, but urban and rural localities. Regarding the city vote to strike down the ordinance in Berea, House states:
“The vote illuminates a new reality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. The equality divide we face is no longer between red and blue states, but between urban and rural America. Even as we celebrate victories like this month’s Supreme Court order on same-sex marriage, the real front in the battle for equality remains the small towns that dot America’s landscape.”
Both the conclusions of the New York Times and Washington Post seem to reinforce each other if you buy into the conclusion that “rural” and “red” have become so inextricably linked that there is no way to differentiate one from the other. At least that’s what these two pieces suggest. If the trend described in the Washington Post continues – that rural counties are becoming more Republican – the battle for LGBT equality in small towns may become even more arduous.