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The Rural Side of the Urban Rural Gap

July 2006

James G. Gimpel, Kimberly A. Karns


In an article that is largely a critique of Thomas Franks “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Gimpel and Karns seek to understand the growing loyalty or rural voters to the Republican Party. They contend that the urban rural divide is not rooted in morality politics, but in economic interests, particularly the culture of rugged individualism and economic independence of rural voters, as well as a higher rate of self-employment and home ownership. They argue that working class rural whites distrust the Democrat’s not only because of their social and moral positions, but because the Democrats economic positions don’t reflect their worldview.

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Policy Implications

In campaigning and in governance it is easy to view the country in blue and red terms, where all rural areas are Republican and all urban areas are Democratic. Gimpel and Karns allow that this is the trend, but they also encourage us to view the trend with more nuance. Progresssive policies seeking to reduce inequality and improve quality of life have been mostly focused on safety net programs. The Democratic Party could improve its standing with rural voters by adding a focus on helping the self-employed and home owners, as well as community sustainability to reduce out-migration.

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