The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States.
This is a big part of the reason why they say the divide is more cultural than economic:
Rural voters who lament their community’s job prospects report supporting Trump by 14 percentage points more than Clinton, but Trump’s support was about twice that margin — 30 points — among voters who say their community’s job opportunities are excellent or good. Trump also earned about the same level of support from those who say they don’t worry about paying their bills as those who couldn’t pay their bills at some point in the past year.
On the cultural divide, the part of this finding that should cause concern for Democrats is the “perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people living in big cities.”
The largest fissures between Americans living in large cities and those in less-dense areas are rooted in misgivings about the country’s changing demographics and resentment about perceived biases in federal assistance, according to the poll…
The poll reveals that perceptions about abuse of government benefits often go hand in hand with views about race.
When asked which is more common — that government help tends to go to irresponsible people who do not deserve it or that it doesn’t reach people in need — rural Americans are more likely than others to say they think people are abusing the system. And across all areas, those who believe irresponsible people get undeserved government benefits are more likely than others to think that racial minorities receive unfair privileges.
It is interesting to note, however, that 67 percent or rural respondents say that people in their community rely a great deal or a fair amount on the federal government to get by, while 41 percent report that they (or a family member in their household) received public assistance in the last year (compared to 35 percent of urban respondents).
When it comes to what the federal government should do to improve the job situation in their area, 68 percent say that lowering government regulations is important and 79 percent say lowering taxes on businesses is important.
On the specific issue of Republican plans to repeal/replace Obamacare, a majority of rural voters (54 percent) support that effort, while a majority of urban (58 percent) and suburban (52 percent) voters oppose it.
In summary, the Republican Southern Strategy seems to have effectively conflated government intervention with assistance to the “underserving,” who are consciously or unconsciously associated with urban people of color. I found this quote fascinating:
“Being from a rural area, everyone looks out for each other,” said Ryan Lawson, who grew up in northern Wisconsin. “People, in my experience, in cities are not as compassionate toward their neighbor as people in rural parts.”
In other words, it is difficult to relate these views to a lack of compassion. They are more the result of a distrust of government combined with a fear of people who aren’t part of “us.”