Red Rural, Blue Rural
Political commentators routinely treat rural America as an undifferentiated bastion of strength for Republicans. In fact, rural America is a deceptively simple term describing a diverse collection of places encompassing nearly 75 percent of the U.S. land area and 50 million people. Voting trends in this vast area are far from monolithic. Republican presidential candidates have generally done well in rural America, but there are important enclaves of Democratic strength there as well. In “battleground” states, these rural differences may have a significant impact on tightly contested elections.
Rural Is Red With Pockets of Blue
The political divisions between urban and rural America are well documented. Democrats count on a strong performance in cities to offset a poor performance outside of them. The political divisions within rural America are less well understood. The growing political diversity of rural America is evident when counties dominated by the old and new rural economy are compared. For instance, voters who reside in areas dominated by the “old rural economy,” exemplified by farming, strongly favor Republican presidential candidates. In contrast, rural areas dominated by the “new rural economy,” based on recreation, amenities, and services, have become critical pockets of strength for Democratic presidential candidates. These partisan differences remain even after controlling for demographic factors and the North–South split.