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Researchers Find Rural Does Not Always Equal Republican

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Posted August 6, 2015

In several traditional political battleground states the political variation among rural areas can have a significant impact on tightly contested presidential elections, researchers in the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire found. While Republican presidential candidates have generally done well in rural America there are important pockets of Democratic strength, and these pockets are gaining population.

Republican presidential candidates do best in rural counties dominated by farming while Democratic presidential candidates do well in rural counties dominated by recreation, according to voting data analyzed by Dante Scala, associate professor of political science and a faculty fellow at the Carsey School, and Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at Carsey and a professor of sociology. This was reflected most recently in President Obama’s past two election campaigns, where he saw stronger support in recreational counties (46 and 42 percent median vote) than in farming counties (31 and 26 percent).

Demographic trends in areas dominated by the old rural economy of farming and the new rural economy of recreation differ as well. This has significant implications for future elections. The 403 rural counties dominated by farming contain just three million residents and their populations are growing only minimally. In contrast, the 289 rural recreational counties contain 8.2 million residents. Because they attract many migrants from urban areas, they are among the fastest growing parts of rural America with a population gain of 34 percent in the last two decades. Scala and Johnson found that a significant majority of these recent migrants supported President Obama in the last two election. These recreational areas are expected to receive many more migrants as the Baby Boom retires over the next two decades. Not all of rural America is dominated by farming and recreation, nor is all farming and recreational activity limited to these county types; both exist to a greater or lesser extent in many of the other 1,361 rural counties that contain 39.7 million residents. Here support for Republicans is greater than in recreation counties, but less than in farm counties.

“Rural America is not the undifferentiated whole often depicted by commentators,” the researchers said. “Our research documents the recent political diversification of rural America, which has helped to create several new swing states that are now battlegrounds in presidential elections.”

The link to the Carsey brief can be found at https://carsey.unh.edu/publication/red-rural-blue-rural

The full article can be found at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0962629815000207

Source: University of New Hampshire

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