The Rural/Red Take on Reality

Since few writers have mused so far on this blog about the results of last week's elections, I may as well take a shot at it. Living in a rural […]

Since few writers have mused so far on this blog about the results of last week's elections, I may as well take a shot at it. Living in a rural area, I surely have had a different real world experience than urban bloggers. I had lived in urban and suburban areas around Boston for most of my life before I relocated to Central Virginia three years ago. When elections come around here, I see signs and hear conversations that I never came across before, and these support the notion, espoused by some commentators after the election, that “red” and “blue” voters have remarkably different perspectives on the same reality.

In this area, except for in the suburban outskirts of Richmond, and within the boundaries of Charlottesville, a college town, signs for Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were very hard to find. The Republican candidates' signs, by contrast, were everywhere, and they were three times larger than the Dems'. 

In conversations a day or two before the election, I heard people saying that they knew many others who were out of work, and that high gas prices were becoming a real problem. They perceived that Romney would help in both areas, where Obama has not. My own perception was that the number of jobless could be traced to a problem that started during the Bush years, and that the price of gas was not set by the president. But I kept my thoughts to myself, because these were not exactly rallying responses.

How is that rural and urban voters can have such different reactions to the same facts on the ground? Here is one small part of the answer: urban voters increasingly have access to mass transit or even bike paths and do not need to spend a lot on gas. Rural voters, on the other hand, must live what is essentially a suburban lifestyle in which they drive to work, to school to pick up their kids, to after school activities in some third location, and so on. All of which costs tremendously at the pump. Jobs in urban areas are a problem these days, but not like they are in rural areas. Rural people have always had to travel far from home for work. That didn't change in the last four years, nor did the relative bite that gas takes from their wallets.

In Virginia, and perhaps in many other states, rural communities are trying to direct their new population and business into growth areas, to keep the countryside looking as it always has. Good policy, generally. But some voters perceive that the current administration in Washington is anti-rural, in its support for this movement toward urban centers. There's even a fringe group on the right that believes that the left thinks that everyone, including long-time rural dwellers as well as newcomers, should move to the growth areas.

Perhaps what some on the left intend as a progressive “solution” is understood instead as a conspiracy against the rural way of life, driving more Red Staters to vote for the red side.

[Map by Mark Newman of U. Michigan, CC BY. See more of his variations on the election 2012 maps here.]

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