I’ve posted before about the urban/rural divide, and why it’s politically consequential.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal quoted Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, for the proposition that the differences in the United States aren’t really “red versus blue” but “urban versus rural.” That observation has been echoed widely, as the differences between residents of rural and small-town America and those who live in urban areas have become steadily more pronounced.
Religion–a historically important generator of conflict– is one such difference: urban Americans are more than three times more likely than their rural counterparts to say that religion isn’t particularly important to them. (Attitudes on social issues reflect that difference: rural residents are far more likely to consider homosexuality a sin and to oppose same-sex marriage, to oppose abortion, and to support restrictions on immigration.)
A survey by Pew in 2018 found white rural residents twice as likely as white urban dwellers to insist that they don’t enjoy a social advantage by reason of their skin color.
Rural residents are more likely to be older and poorer and more likely to be isolated than urban dwellers. They are also far more likely to be Republican.
Despite the fact that some 80% of Americans now live in cities, the structure of America’s electoral system continues to significantly advantage rural voters, especially but not exclusively through the operation of the Electoral College. Whether what is called the urban/rural split is defined simply as city versus country, or by a more complex cultural regionalism, those ubiquitous red/blue maps attest to the measurable and consequential differences between urban and rural Americans.
This situation, according to the Washington Post, is not exclusively an American phenomenon.A report from 2016 suggests a very similar state of affairs in Europe.
What shaped European politics over the past two years might appear to some like a revolution of rural Europe rising up against the establishment and economic winners.
Support for Britain leaving the European Union was highest in rural areas in the June referendum.
It is also “rural France” that might empower far-right politician Marine Le Pen next year.
In Germany, the urban establishment underestimated the backlash the recent influx of refugees would provoke in less densely populated areas.
In rural northern Europe, the article tells us, younger, better educated men and women have moved to cities to find employment. That statement also describes states like Indiana, where small towns continue to empty out as young people depart for more densely populated cities.
Even in federal republics like Germany, which lack the dominance of one single capital city, an urban-rural disconnect is increasingly visible. Whereas Berlin has attracted foreigners and Germans alike, its surrounding areas have seen a rapid demographic change. Supermarkets have closed, and bus connections were canceled as a result. It is a pattern which can be observed all over Europe at the moment.
The description of those who have stayed in Europe’s rural areas is familiar here too: a feeling of being left behind has replaced the pride of place that used to characterize small villages and hamlets. Rural residents exhibit a sense of abandonment and replacement that the article suggests is largely responsible for the election of Trump and the vote for Brexit.
When people feel left behind, they want someone to blame.
And as these native Britons feel trapped with no economic future, they see images of an increasingly diverse population in the cities. To many Brexit supporters, concerns over an influx of immigrants were among the reasons they voted to leave the E.U.
In Germany, similar feelings have created a different kind of backlash: anti-immigration protests and anti-refugee attacks. Economically distressed eastern Germany has seen the vast majority of those attacks. That region, an area which consists of five states excluding Berlin, accounts for only about 15 percent of the German population. Yet the majority of anti-immigrant attacks took place in the country’s east in 2015.
In one way, it’s comforting to recognize that we aren’t the only country experiencing this problem. But while “misery loves company,” commiserating with that company doesn’t solve our problems.
A country with a functioning government would work to address the problems of rural decline–try to ameliorate the isolation and frustration that feed racial and ethnic resentments. But we don’t have a functioning government.
We have an administration that needs to keep fueling those rural frustrations and resentments. They are the sentiments that motivate the GOP base.