A look at electoral maps indicates a great divide between urban and rural America. In nearly every state, rural areas appear to be Republican red while urban areas are blue Democrat.
That can lead to the erroneous conclusion that rural Americans only care about issues being championed by Republicans. Political beliefs and positions are diverse in rural America, with people as concerned about “Democratic” issues as they are about “Republican” ones.
New research backs that up and offers findings that will surprise some regarding rural politics.
Results from the "What matters to rural Americans" poll are available to the public through the Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
The June-August survey of 1,300 adults living in rural America found they are preoccupied by economic issues and the ongoing opioid epidemic.
And surprise: Most think the government can help solve the problems.
Almost half of respondents know someone struggling with addiction, almost half of those with adult kids have watched them move away and a majority think better public schools would help their local economies.
Specifically, 25 percent of respondents named drug addiction or abuse as the biggest problem facing their community. Economic concerns were listed as the biggest problem by 21 percent of respondents.
Forty-nine percent of the respondents surveyed said they personally have known someone who struggled with opioid addiction. A similar percentage (48 percent) said that opioid addiction in their community had gotten worse in the past five years.
However, 51 percent of respondents said they are confident the major problems in their communities will be solved in the next five years.
For big problems, a majority of respondents said help from outside the local community is required to solve them. Among rural Americans who say they need outside help, 61 percent think the government will play the greatest role in solving major problems facing their community.
Poll co-director Robert J. Blendon, a professor of public health and health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said this finding comes as a surprise given views of rural areas as conservative and resistant to governmental intervention. Thirty percent of rural Americans localized this government help to the state level, while 18 percent suggested the federal government would play the greatest role and 13 percent indicated the county or regional government would be most instrumental.
Some results should come as no surprise and support what we have long known to be a strength of rural Americans, who are optimistic and resilient. Despite problems, rural Americans value rural life and believe in a bright future.
Most say their lives have turned out either better than they expected (41 percent) or about like they expected (42 percent), while only 15 percent say their lives have turned out worse than they expected.
And just over 20 percent of respondents named the closeness of their community as its biggest strength. Following closeness as the top answer, 11 percent thought their community’s biggest strength was “being around good people” and 11 percent appreciated living in a small town.