What motivates rural people to choose to be a Democrat or a Republican? Is it based on their beliefs, values and attitudes that formed primarily by family, friends, culture, and life experiences? Beliefs are ideas that we accept as true without any supporting facts. Values are a set of principles, which each of us consider of great importance. Attitudes regarding someone or something are based on core beliefs and values (owlcation.com).
We all have social identities which develop and change from childhood to adulthood, with our beliefs, values and attitudes changing as well. Social identity allows us to be part of groups and gain a sense of belonging, which shapes our self-image. Our social identity can be shaped by our gender, sexual orientation, race, age group, religion, profession, economic status, where we live, politics, clubs and sports.
These social identities bring us together with other people sharing these same identities. In these groups we feel safe, share the same feelings and concerns. We get positive support in these groups. For many of us, our religion, friends and where we live are strong factors determining our political party affiliation.
Data from the 2020 Cooperative Election Study (CES), revealed that urban and rural social identities have significantly different attitudes about each of the following: faith, gun ownership and race. These attitudes are major factors determining our political party affiliation.
CES data showed that 48% of rural voters identify as evangelical Christians, while only 30% of urban voters did. About 75% of white evangelicals identify as Republicans.
Rural and urban voters also differ on “gun culture.” In the CES study, 61% of rural voters said there was at least one gun in their household. By contrast, only about 25% of urban Americans own a gun. The 2018 Pew Research data showed that gun ownership among Republicans (44%) is more than double the gun ownership rate among Democrats (20%).
Views on race relations and systemic racism also distinguish urban and rural America. Racial attitudes can be measured using a scale called racism denial, which is asking respondents whether they agree or disagree that white people have certain advantages in our white dominated society. In recent elections, the levels of racism denial have been shown to strongly predict voter choice. The 2018 Pew Research report found that a majority of rural Americans deny that white people have advantages denied to people of color. A 2020 CES study asked the same question as the Pew study and showed that 45% of rural Americans and 20% of urban Americans denied that whites have advantages that people of color didn’t. This data shows that racism plays a strong role in determining which political party rural people choose.
Politics becomes an expression of group identity, rural vs urban. Nothing brings a group together like a common enemy. Rural areas resent being controlled by the more populated urban areas. Urban dominance tries to force rural areas to live by urban rules pertaining to guns, hunting, and social issues. It comes down to whether the urban group is gaining the power to threaten rural values, the safety, and prosperity of rural areas. It’s rural vs urban. Rural people can experience feelings of cultural decline, marginalization, and being disrespected. These ideas align closely with the left-behind hypothesis; those that are poorly prepared to compete in an increasingly globalized world feel left behind by it.
Rural people’s feelings of resentment play a major role in the voting choices they make. Other issues, such as, the role of the government, illegal immigration, and religion also effect how people vote. These issues all closely mirror the Republican platform and political rhetoric of untrustworthy, over-reaching government that is too lenient and lacks morals. The fact that many rural respondents who hold these ideas would vote for Republicans is completely rational and to be expected, as it reflects their expressed opinions.
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