Here’s a map to ponder. It’s the state-wide county-by-county results map from last Tuesday’s election:
[See also: the interactive version on the Secretary of State’s website.]
For me, one of the big takeaways from the election is how stark the rural-urban divide has become. For many reasons, there is more division and disagreement between people who live in cities and people who do not than any time in the last century. The election saw increasing support for the Democratic candidate in places like the second-ring suburbs, and increasing support for the Republican candidate in rural areas.
This pattern held true at a national level and at the state level. In Minnesota, the “blue” counties were entirely urban areas (plus the sparsely populated arrowhead). There are many reasons for this split, but it’s obvious to me that it has become a huge problem undermining any illusions of political consensus or geographic compromise.
(It’s worth pointing out that this map also reflects the coverage here on streets.mn. Ostensibly, this is a state-wide website, but there is precious little content here that speaks to or about any of the areas in red.)
Here are a few questions: What are the chances that this urban-rural rift gets healed? Are there strategies that we can employ — socially, personally, politically — to overcome the political divides that revolve around geography and “the city”?
I wonder if they’d like us better if we:
– Subsidized major employers in the rural areas, like farmers.
– Established a system of Critical Access Hospitals that allow residents to receive healthcare locally, and provide a source of good paying jobs in small communities.
– Subsidized wind power and solar power installations to diversify local economies and provide local, renewable power.
– Spent money on roads and bridges at a greater rate, per capita, than in the cities.
– Spent money to plow roads in the winter, even if they receive very little traffic.
– Funded colleges and universities in far-flung places to give bright kids a place to attend school locally.
Should we try that?
Forgive the snark. I have family in the rural areas, and they are good people. And Trump supporters.
In discussions with them, I have heard very little acknowledgement of the role our government plays in supporting rural communities. I have heard lots of dismay at the general sense of decline and malaise in the small towns they hail from – but then, few complaints about the 45 minute drive to WalMart in Marshall for weekly groceries. I have heard lots of concern with Black Lives Matter, but as a St Paul resident, I have been inconvenienced by protests exponentially more than them. (and I support BLM).
I am unable to understand the roots of their political leanings, and I don’t see any immediate ways to heal the divide. Sorry.
Oh well worth a shot. Of course you are right about all those existing policies. Still that cannot be the end of the conversation.
To address the map for a second, here’s an example of a map that I think does a better job of showing population concentration vs. geography: https://twitter.com/DanHenebery/status/793870445686554624
Bridging the urban/rural divide is something that’s been in the back of my mind as I’ve been making my maps of suggested rail corridors for Minnesota and Wisconsin (plus Norway for comparison with a much more functional system in a similarly-sized place). I am planning an article around another map for North Dakota, where there are only twelve cities of more than 5,000 people, and yet they make up more than 57% of the state’s population. That makes me feel that it isn’t necessary to go deep, deep, deep into rural territory to meet people and try to change their minds, but it is necessary to reach out beyond major metro areas.
I know I view things through an urbanist and rail promoter lens, but I do suspect that the collapse of intercity passenger rail system up to the 1971 formation of Amtrak, and the stagnant level of it since then, has made it harder for people to come across people of other backgrounds by chance, and kept rural and suburban people from having their views challenged by the many interactions that you have while in busier towns and cities.
Many of the forces of suburbanization we’ve seen in the metro have also affected small towns. It’s common for new businesses and housing to be built out on the edges of small communities, leaving the old town centers to rot. Even if the city or town is growing overall, that lends to a sense of malaise that makes things feel worse than they really are.
For this site, I think it’s important to largely keep doing what we’ve been doing, though I’m certainly open to some new ideas.
I spent my first 23 years in Rural Minnesota, the last 9 in the metro area, and I still maintain a lot of connections to rural Minnesota (even though I would never live there again).
And from what I’ve seen there are only three things that rural Minnesotan’s care about anymore:
1. making abortion illegal
2. lowering taxes (even though they are getting a pretty good deal already)
3. more jobs
Any candidate that says that they’ll do all three will get the majority of votes, no matter what else they say.
I grew up in a rural community as well, though to parents who both grew up in urban areas. I agree with J N that there is a lot of support for outlawing abortion (just drive through WI on I-94 or highway 29 and count the number of billboards out there…). My parents, who now lean Democrat after Scott Walker gutted the state of WI, have numerous evangelical friends and family where that is nearly the *sole* item they vote on.
There was an article making the rounds following the election – I think on Cracked – titled something along the lines of “How 50% of the Country Lost its Mind”, and it spoke to a lot of possible reasons for the rural-urban divide. It mentioned how people in rural communities continually watch their young residents grow and move onto the big metro areas for opportunities. New businesses aren’t being opened, and towns start to fade away. These people probably feel negatively about urban areas having such a strong voice in many elections, and they probably felt like their voices were being heard by Trump.
It makes you wonder what incentives could be offered so that small businesses would be more inclined to open in small towns rather than big ones, so these little rural communities aren’t solely dependent on one or two industries to provide jobs for their residents. Perhaps the idea of living in a small town would be more attractive, especially to people like me who moved away from my rural hometown for more (and better) employment opportunities.
I don’t have any solutions, but I plan to read the book MPR put out a couple years back about the rural decline in MN (downloaded it when it came out and only read a couple pages, shamefully) to learn more about some of the nuances.
I grew up in a rural area (edge of Rochester, MN) that is transitioning into being an urban area. (now Rochester, MN) I have a great deal of family in those parts.
For me, I think there needs to be an overlay on this map of the split between ages in Rural areas. As there was a huge difference in the ages of voters, I would postulate that in rural areas the younger folks may not have voted with the older folks, as that was a common theme across the board.
What I would guess, (as it was the narrative that I experienced) is most of the kiddos in the rural areas aren’t exceptionally in favor of the red spots, as they are invested in leaving their town. It’s been in every song I’ve heard from Journey to Bruce Springsteen to Townes Van Zandt. When you are young, you are mobile. You can leave.
So there really isn’t a buy in for the young folks dreaming of a better place in rural areas. Thus, I would postulate that older voters who have decided to stay in rural areas and are more apprehensive about leaving their home are the dominant voice of rural areas.
Rural older voices have about 2x the suicide rate as in urban areas. The desperation sets in. The frustration sets in. The world was small and it gets smaller. Especially with older white males. The world was the factory and now where is that. We’ve seen that kind of attitude with the closing of the 3M plant in Saint Paul, too. People long for the days when they could just go to work, come home, and raise their family. A man once looked at me in awe that I was a young person with 4 jobs, because the America he wants to return was one in which you can go to one job, work it your whole life, get in your truck, and drive home. My point here is that desperation breeds desperate measures. People put their faith in some messed up stuff just because they want to believe that they are gonna be okay.
Facts of life: Things change. Globalization is not going away. But we are going to need to be better at educating our older rural populations (my postulation is its the older ones) about how the world is changing and how that isn’t a bad thing.
Facts of Life: running a political campaign promising to take away Key constitutional rights of Americans is not okay. It never will be. Bullying people is not okay. It never will be. Having no plan and just winging it is not okay, and this is the jazz musician talking, people. Regardless of how I organize, these things are non-negotiable. All healing and country unity must be under the idea that all humans are indeed human.
I’m writing prose here which I try not to in order to keep up with the fiercely intellectual vibe of StreetsMN, so please forgive me. But it’s about what I’ve got right now.
I think we need to organize in our rural communities better. Personally, I’m gonna read Paul Wellstone’s *How the Rural Poor Got Power* again and try to get some tips.
I think we need to be especially cognizant of our Echo Chambers. I remember watching Saint Paul pass the bike plan and in between everybody’s talking points 98% of the room looked down at their phones to check Twitter and see live comments on a meeting. IN. PROCESS. that we were all AT. Y’all we have to stop this. Social media is AI. It trains itself to give us what we want. This is clearly not healthy for anybody.
I think we need to write letters. Like, with a pen. Use the post office. Everybody. Loves. Mail. It’s like Christmas morning came as a surprise. How wonderful is that.
I think we need to show up for the little boring meetings, write the little boring emails, and do these little boring democratic things with grace. I think we need to bring snacks and stay late to clean up with the board members. I think we need to try to remember people’s names and smile when we talk, especially when we disagree. These things haven’t changed and they never will.
I have other thoughts as to what should happen culturally centered around morality, religion, and the weaponization of faith, but this is an urbanist blog, so I’m gonna write those things down in bullet point form and nail ’em to the front door of every church in MN. Just kidding. Maybe?
I think those who know how transit funding occurs need to get out to rural areas and teach. I think these meetings (for lack of a better term) are gonna suck. Like, they are going to be awful and miserable and likely just one transit person getting yelled at while they answer questions from hopped up people. I think that it needs to happen anyway, regardless of how people in rural areas react. So rest up now, I gulp with you.
Those are my thoughts, & expect to see me riding my bike dreaming of flying, because no matter what, some things never change.
Just kidding, y’all. I do have citations. I ain’t gonna deprive you of that. 😉
I don’t think there is any way to reconcile these divergent view points which has some dire consequences for those of us who care about St. Paul.
As great as the political divide is the cultural divide is even greater.
Can’t wait until some random Republican beats Dayton or Chris Coleman or whoever and the cities are left to die on the vine.
Despite the draw towards what makes us different, the focus should be on what makes us similar. The left and the right, urban and rural, etc. live in bubbles and run campaigns that only speak to their bases.
Regardless of what you hear, most rural bumpkins don’t vote based on one issue. Mrs. Clinton was a poor choice and wasn’t going to win over greater American just because she was a woman or because she wasn’t Trump. It doesn’t work like that.
If anything, this election shows that our political party system is out of touch and lame. Romney had more votes in his loss in 2012 than Trump did in his win. “Did Not Vote” was 43.1% of eligible voters. http://brilliantmaps.com/did-not-vote
Trump is currently about 100K-200K behind Romney’s total. There were as of Saturday approx 7 million votes left to be counted. Most from California but Trump will beat Romney by a couple of million votes minimum
The future for reasonably progressive voting in non-urban areas depends so much on the specific candidates and their messages. Hillary was not likely to appeal to rural voters and apparently made little effort to do so. But Tim Walz survived.
All the same, as I remarked elsewhere on Nov. 9th, I’ve previously been ashamed of my country regarding certain policies and issues, but this presidential election result is the first time I’ve been ashamed of the American people.
Here is an idea, and it is a radical one:
Instead of asking what is wrong with them, or how you can persuade them to change their point of view, or how to better educate them try to learn from them.
Do you question the way Native American’s live because they don’t live in dense cities with great public transit, bike paths, mixed-use development, and a great diversity of cultures or do you accept and even promote who they are?
Do you question those of the Islamic faith because of their views on the place of women in society, or do you respect their faith?
Do you respect and promote the rich ethnic neighborhoods here in the Twin Cities, and want them to improve their opportunities while maintaining their existing character and culture, or do you say you have to follow this example and start over?
My point is this: Instead of asking what is so wrong with this pigheaded farmers and miners out in the sticks try to understand them and their life the same way you do for the different communities that make up the Twin Cities. Instead of automatically assuming you know what is best for them (“Well, we give them green jobs!”) why don’t you ask what they they think is best for themselves?
See, here is the thing: I have asked people from rural areas what they think is best for this country! The responses are rarely specific, local, or actionable.
I am more likely to hear diatribes about needing to get government off people’s backs, liberals forcing abortion/gay marriage down our throats, Democrats are anti-cop, or Obama taking people’s guns than I am anything that might actually improve people’s lives out there.
And calmly pointing out that
– The USA is taxed less (as a % of GDP) than other developed countries,
– The USA is regulated less than other developed countries, and agencies like the EPA have had a tremendous positive impact on things like air pollution over the last few decades,
– No liberal wants to force anyone to have an abortion or be gay, only that they option is open for people to live as they see fit,
– Planned Parenthood provides critical health services to people that cannot afford it otherwise, in addition to abortions.
– A large percentage of the aging rural population depends on Social Security and Medicare, and only one party is staked to protecting those programs,
– A large percentage of peole of color feel the police do not treat them fairly, and figuring out ways to fix that relationship is critical for social cohesion in increasingly diverse cities,
– Obama has only ever asked for relatively modest gun control measures that attempt to keep weapons out of the hands of people that should not have them,
….makes no difference to the conversation.
You can argue that the “city folk” look down on the rural areas, but I experience very little empathy happening in reverse…and I have a feeling we are going to see quite a lot of right-wing pet projects like harsh restrictions on abortion, defunding of Planned Parenthood, or overturning gay marriage imposed on the country in the next several years. Should be quite a ride, as long as you’re not an immigrant, gay, poor and in need of reproductive health services, etc. For people like that, many of whom live in rural areas, recent events are legitimately frightening.
I can’t believe the stuff I am reading on this board…lol…rural areas are being taken over by white, educated, upper class city dwellers that have moved out of the city to get away from crime, noise and pollution. it is not made up of farmers, and hicks anymore. Have you priced land and given a look to the cost of what the average home runs? Farmers? Most of the farms are run by Monsanto or Cargill…the days of Ma and Pa farmer are long gone. This article only shows how out of touch most of America is with not only the voters, but also their own demographics.
As for the small towns, they are being surrounded by the same thing. Small town America is disappearing. Maybe not as fast as the ‘sticks’, but they are going the same way. I live in Kansas. Our rural areas are not cheap, places to live in anymore.
That’s certainly true about farmland.