City Liberals, Rural Republicans

In the forums Elemenope made this observation:

Cities pretty much everywhere in the US are liberal. The rural areas…pretty much everywhere in the US are conservative. For a fun time, overlay a population by county map with county returns for any presidential election over the last 20 years. Almost *completely* without exception, the urban counties go for the democrat, the rural counties go for the republican.

Any theories as to why this is the case?

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  • Francesco Orsenigo

    People in the cities gets exposed to more ideas and more stimuli, they have to adapt faster to a reality that changes.
    Rural people live in more stable realities, they are happy in their safe worlds and less prone anything that may make it less stable.

    • Custador

      Having grown up in a farming community, I disagree. A sudden rain shower can ruin lives when you farm crops – and farmers have the highest suicide rate (shortly followed by dentists and nurses, I believe).

      • step21

        true, but I think you look at it the wrong way. I don’t think when he said “changing realities” he meant rain showers. It has rained for the duration of the existence of mankind, so how is that a changing reality?

        • Custador

          “I’ve got a crop that’s drying in the fields and which is my entire income for the year. Oh, crap it just rained – now I’ve made a loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds and can’t afford to eat.”

          I’d call that a changing reality…

          • trj

            The day-to-day weather pattern is independent of politics. Societal changes, on the other hand…

        • Wintermute

          I believe what step is trying to get at is social change, not environmental change.

          • DCtouristsANDlocals

            And culture – people in rural areas probably have a more homogeneous culture with their neighbors (same occupation, same worries, grew up together, etc) whereas people in cities will likely meet people of different cultures and different beliefs from their own.

  • PsiCop

    As someone who’s lived in rural areas most of my life but also lived in cities now and again, from what I can tell, the people in the cities are, largely, the recipients of the kinds of programs that liberals tend to promote.

    This is not to say that conservatives promote programs for rural areas … in fact, government more or less ignores rural areas completely. Of course, folks in rural areas notice that the cities get all the attention and they get none. So when conservatives complain about all the stuff that liberals promote … nearly all of which goes into cities and never to them … rural people are sympathetic to that message.

    If liberals stopped ignoring rural areas, they might actually put a dent in conservative support there. However, I’m sure that, if they did so, the city folk would notice, and start complaining, and liberals’ support there would be undermined.

    Essentially, then, what’s happened is that each side has created its own political-demographic stronghold, they’ve dug trenches around them, and are camped firmly inside. Neither is likely to endanger itself by venturing outside these perimeters.

    • Matt

      Very true. Last election cycle I approached a prominent ex-senator (from Missouri I think) about how to gain more votes for Democrats. I told her about my experiences in West Virginia and Appalachia in general, and how if Democrats selflessly engaged in a comprehensive and aggressive program of dragging that region out of it’s backwards stereotype and into the present we would A) have the region for quite a while and B) we’d be doing a really really good thing for our fellow citizens.
      Nope. She dismissed it out of hand. I think really at that point I should have just given up on the Democrats, but it took all this DADT, Afghan escalation, and healthcare bungling to really piss me off.

      • PsiCop

        I very much believe that no one was interested in breaching the wall the two ideologies have built. To put a hole in it would cost too much in terms of resources — and yes, money — without, in their minds, a sufficiently guaranteed payoff.

        I have seen very much the same happening — on a smaller scale — in my home state of Connecticut. At one time I was involved with state politics and met several leaders over the course of about ten years. In my experience, they are universally uninterested in anything relating to CT’s rural towns. Rural legislators do, but there are too few of them to matter, so they’re pretty much ignored in Hartford. Neither party appears to care that they’re purposely ignoring, if not actively alienating, a significant political/electoral resource. And no amount of explaining that to them, appears to make any difference.

        • Thegoodman

          Nearly 80% of the American population lives in urban areas. This would justify a political campaign that favors urban areas.

          The political election system is the problem, not the individuals. Any politician knows that he must get elected to make a difference. They only way to get elected is to get the most votes. The only way to get the most votes is to campaign to the largest demographics. In the world of urban vs. rural, urban will get more attention every single time.

          Not only are rural citizens in the minority, they are also less outspoken, less educated, less wealthy, and more conservative in their ideas. They are hard to influence to vote in either direction, they are unreceptive to data that might influence their votes, they are less likely to join a campaign, and they are less likely to donate to said campaign.

          From a political campaign standpoint, rural America is a lost cause.

          • Trevor

            It’s inaccurate to claim that rural areas do not benefit from federal funding. The truth is rural areas typically get out much more than they pay into the federal government. Here’s a link to a 2007 state by state analysis of winners and loser when it came to federal funding.

            Of the top ten receiving the most in federal funds per dollar spent in federal taxes ($2.04 to $1.53 per dollar spent) 8 were states that voted for John McCain in 2008. Of the ten receiving the least in federal funds ( .61 to .81 cents on the dollar) all ten voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

            When you look at the data in this regard it becomes apparent that the blue states are more generous than the red states. The conservatives are feeding at the blue socialist trough. It may be that conservatives are too greedy to settle for anything less than all the tax revenue in the United States, however, it’s not for lack of favorable redistribution of wealth that the Red States continue to vote for politicians that rail against the very programs that benefit the states they represent. From both the Blue and Red perspective we see that political preference is not a straight forward rational choice of services in exchange for taxes.

            • Revyloution

              Good scoop on that Tax foundation site Trevor.

              I never thought it sounded right when they say that urban areas receive the bulk of tax dollars. I bookmarked that in my phone for the next time I run into a Tea Partier.

  • Elemenope

    I think at least a contributing factor is that cities constantly provide challenges to preconceptions by presenting diverse cultures, values, and lifestyles. It’s possible to grow up in a rural area and fool oneself into thinking that the entire world is pretty much like your little corner of it, whereas it is somewhat more difficult to sustain such a delusion in an urban environment.

    Then again, lest I be accused of saying that city liberalism is necessarily better, cosmopolitanism can lead to absolutely intellectually crippling levels of cultural/moral relativism.

    • deathgrindfreak

      I agree, I think it has a lot to do with the diversity of cities and the extreme uniformity of most rural areas. I’ve always loved living in cities, and you could almost say with a good certainty that it was responsible for my de-conversion and becoming a liberal. I grew up in the country of course, and my parents still live in a small town, and even though the current town in which they live is %80 Hispanic (its north of Amarillo, Tx) they still are able to only associate with people of the same race and; political and religious ideology.

    • Confused

      While I agree in broad strokes, I don’t think the problem is that one fools onseself into believing the world is just like where you are; but rather that when you belong to a small community, it’s very easy to treat anything you don’t come across every day as being “the other”.

      • Elemenope

        I think that might be what happens when a person is confronted with evidence that the rest of the world isn’t like their little corner. “Well, it ought to be like we do it here!”

        • Custador

          Bit like religion, really!

  • Janet

    Take a look at the book The Big Sort — it’s partly self-sorting, and partly US political history post-WWII. A very useful book.

  • HumanistDad

    There are, of course, Republicans who don’t live on farms and live in lavish ‘modern’ homes in big cities which makes me question if rural and city are too specific.

    Thinking about this in more general terms, I wonder if it is more a case of land ownership and the perception of freedom on one’s land.

    Where I live, there is a movement to tax and regulate tree cutting because there have been instances where a corporate owner has clear cut property to build and then the project didn’t proceed leaving a large empty field where a small forest once stood. Rural owners have cried foul and started posting signs of, “Back Off Government!” and “This Land is My Land!” Landowners feel that they have the right to do whatever they want on their land.

    City owners have little, if any, land ownership and thus are highly restricted in what they do. This leads to complex laws and restriction on freedoms (one cannot cut down a tree without likely felling it on someone else’s property). Freedom in a city is understood to mean freedom within your home but freedom to a rural person is freedom to move and act.

    Rural dwellers want to think of freedom in terms of low population density and the ability to insulate oneself. It’s a rural fantasy that neighbours help neighbours but when the barn is built, everyone leaves eyeing each other, suspicious of what their neighbours are doing. Encroaching on a small, insignificant part of a farmer’s property is likely to result in gunfire.

    So, I see the Republican philosophy as having freedom FROM others whereas Democrats work toward freedom WITH others. Democrats more likely to say, “if you let me do my thing, I’ll let you do yours.” A Republican will probably say, “I do whatever I want, but what are you doing?”

    Just a rant. It would be fun to see if this generalization holds up to evidence.

    • Elemenope

      Interesting notion. Land ownership might be another major factor.

      • DDM

        It was the first thing I thought of. Rural people own their own place, city people don’t. That means that the rural people should be more well-to-do than the city ones.

        • Custador

          Actually in Britain the opposite is true; wealthy city dwellers buy second homes in the country and house prices become inflated beyond the reach of country folks, who generally have lower incomes.

    • Joel Wheeler

      This basically sums up my experience. (long-term city-dweller, SF now.) I was raised in the suburbs, and my parents now live in the exurbs. On the rare occasion when they visit, they behave in stereotypical ways, locking the car doors at all times, eyeing the homeless warily, etc. They also seem genuinely surprised when I introduce them to my neighbors, like, “you actually know your neighbors? I thought this was the big city!” They seem equally surprised that I’m on a first-name basis with the coffee guy, the waitress, the mailman, my landlord, the laundromat, etc. Their idea of ‘big city’ is how THEY experience it as visitors; fast-paced and unfamiliar.

      I’ve long thought that the best way to promote tolerance is to have folks live in close proximity. When the nearest neighbor is two acres over, you don’t have to tolerate anything.

    • Revyloution

      Land ownership, and generally having more space.

      The fewer people in a group, the fewer rules are necessary for the group to function. 3 guys on a camping trip require few rules, and almost none would need to be codified. The opposite scenario, such as a submarine packed full of sailors, would require a lengthy set of firm rules covering everything from when to eat and sleep to how and when to use the bathroom.

      People who live in cities are used to the lengthy regulations, and understand how they are needed. They are much more comfortable with heavy regulation on their lives, because it keeps the society moving forward. When those same types of laws are imposed on rural life, its seen as an imposition on their freedoms. Smoking bans are a perfect example. In a crowded city, if you start smoking you will immediately effect the air quality of at least 5 other people. In a rural setting a non smoker will have ample space to avoid the smokers.

      I think what is missing from most conservative thought is the recognition of the interconnectedness of our society. They don’t (or won’t) make the connection between their decisions, and how they will effect the lives of people half a continent away. They think that if they are just ‘left alone’ that will solve all the problems.

  • Tyro

    There was an interesting study published which looked at the different types of morals & ethics that people use (can’t find the link right now). One of the more surprising differences was “social cohesion” – conservatives value this very highly and liberals do not, instead they value individual freedoms. This isn’t a genetic issue as it varies by location and culture so it seems like something that is present in all of us, just not always expressed.

    In smaller towns (and religious communities), social cohesion is valued strongly but is diminished in larger communities possibly because it becomes increasingly difficult to define a “community” and nearly impossible to police it, but in smaller communities people can keep track of what others are doing and shame them into compliance. In these communities, sticking together, defending your family and group, and allegiance to common ideals are very important, more important than the ideals themselves (certainly more than the facts supporting the ideals). The community is viewed almost as a living organism which must be cared for and which is greater than the lives of the individuals which compose it.

    This sort of group is directly threatened by the focus on individual needs which is prevalent in the liberal community (and, ironically, by the libertarian community).

    It’s a saddening irony that these groups which are most strongly socially conservative are often most hurt by a fiscally conservative agenda, but which are the least able to draw finer distinctions, lest the individual members chart different courses and dissolve the group.

  • Randy Hunt

    People who live near each other in cities have no choice but to learn to get along. They have shared walls, shared walkways, shared buses and trains. They have to ride together in elevators and on escalators and pass each other daily on sidewalks.

    By contrast, people in rural areas never learn to get along. They have huge spaces separating them from each other… and when the neighbor bother’s you, you can just put up a fence. Everyone rides in their own car, listening to whatever music they like at whatever volume they like with absolutely no concern for what anyone else thinks. They can cough and sneeze directly onto any surface without anyone complaining, throw their trash on their floor without ever having to worry about what anyone else thinks.

    It’s the very fact of having the luxury of never having to learn to get along with people that makes conservatism possible. That whole attitude of “leave us alone”, “keep the government out of our business”, and “not in my backyard” is simply impossible in an urban environment where there are millions of people.

    And I’ve got news for all the isolationist conservatives out there…. the population is growing, not shrinking. Eventually, everything is going to be urban. Sooner or later, you’re all going to have no choice but to learn to get along. You’re going to have to turn down your music, clean up your porch, and pick up after your dog.

    • wazza

      That said, country people often choose to work together, but it’s the fact that they get to choose that’s important.

    • Joel Wheeler

      yes yes yes. What Randy said.

  • James

    Fear is what drives life in small towns. Fear of change. Fear of a shifting power structure. Fear of something or somebody different. It stems from an “us versus them” mentality and an oversimplification of everything as being either “good” or “evil.” There is no room for gray. Christians, especially, are taught that the world is out to get them – to destroy their country, their community, and their values. Power hungry politicians and pastors (with an increasingly blurred like between the two) demonize those who are different as a method to keep their followers in check. “The gays want to destroy our families, the Mexicans are stealing our jobs, and the blacks steal all the welfare money.” There is no room at the table for opposing views or independent thought. In their minds, good Christian folk are being persecuted. Cable news commentators, and my former pastor, told me the 1950’s were the greatest time in our nation’s history. When I hear that today I’m shocked. After all, in the 1950’s segregation was in full force, Jim Crow laws were in effect, and the glass ceiling was as high and firm as ever.

    Along with fear, stereotypes drive small town perceptions of “outsiders.” In small towns, residents tend to lump people into large groups. You have your whites and blacks, all Latinos are labeled as Mexicans, and Asians are Chinese, and then there are those of “terrorist descent.” When you don’t know somebody outside of stereotypes, it is nearly impossible to care about them, and very easy to become wary of them. The small town is the comfort zone for those who fear the poor or foreign. Shane Claiborne said in The Irresistible Revolution, “I asked participants who claimed to be “strong followers of Jesus” whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

    Small town America is stubborn and slow to accept progress and grant equality and liberty to all. Living in mostly segregated, rural areas breeds bigotry, racism, xenophobia, a general disregard for the poor and needy, and disdain for people and beliefs other than your own. Small-town-mindedness encourages anti-intellectualism, jingoism, and blind devotion to religion and government (which have an increasingly blurred line between the two). In addition, small town bigotry shifts over time. While segregation was a sacred institution in rural towns for most of this country’s history, many rural residents now take pride in how they “aren’t racist” and even have a token black friend to prove it. In 1968 the battle cry was “Protect the sanctity of marriage; no interracial marriage.” In 2008 it had evolved into “Protect the sanctity of marriage; no gay marriage.” I often hear stories of people from small towns who leave for college. At first they have a prejudice against gays or Muslims or some other group. Maybe their pastor preached on the evils of homosexuality. They believe it, until they actually befriend a gay person. Then they learn to judge their new friend by their character, and not the stereotype hung around their neck by a small minded pastor.

    • HumanistDad

      I don’t think rural people want liberty for all, they want liberty for themselves, first. I was recently arguing with a libertarian who ran for election for the Libertarian Party in the Province I live. He denies Anthromorphic Global Warming (AGW) but admits the world is getting warmer. I asked him what should be done.

      His response was nothing, until it becomes a problem. What I pointed out to him, is that AGW is already a problem for many people and what he was really saying is he’ll fix AGW only when it is a problem for him. He is thinking like a rural Republican. He’s fine where he is now and he isn’t concerned about those who are not. In a sense, they deserve their problem.

      No amount of argument could help him understand that problems outside his area of control could overwhelm him. We should fix AGW before it is a (worse) problem, not after. Instead he would go on and on about how ‘the government’ is just trying to take our money and freedoms away….

      • Brian

        This is completely off-topic, but when you mentioned global warming, I remembered a conversation on a public radio station I just heard the other night. The person said something similar to “We are not destroying Earth. Earth will take care of itself and do what it needs to do to survive. We are at risk of destroying our species with global warming. Humans may go extinct, but Earth will live on.”

        I had always looked at the topic as “we are destroying our planet,” but we are really just making it less inhabitable for ourselves.

        • wazza

          eh… we’re hitting a lot of other species harder than ourselves. Yeah, life will probably build some kind of equilibrium once we’re extinct, but it’ll still be a lot less rich than the current ecosystem.

      • Jabster

        “Instead he would go on and on about how ‘the government’ is just trying to take our money and freedoms away….”

        I’ve heard this argument from more than one persons and it’s one of the strangest conspiracy theories I’ve every heard. It can be taken to a new level in that they are aiming to get a world government. Then again most governments have problems just governing one country can you imagine the chaos of a world government?

  • Elliot

    I think that most of these theories are factors in the overall answer, but I also think that there is another factor that no one has mentioned: education. Cities often have much larger budgets and much larger pools of potential teachers to choose from, leading to an overall higher quality of education in many areas (not to downplay the education crisis in the inner-cities, but that’s a much larger discussion).

    In very rural areas, especially the “family farm” areas, education becomes a much smaller percentage of a county’s budget, leading to a lower standard of education. This can result in many students being unaware of the diversity of the outside world, and uninterested in it. In addition to this, education can be downplayed, as many younger people are expected to go to work on the farm instead of going to college. Granted there are many exceptions to this (I know a guy who went to school to get his masters degree in plant genetics so that he COULD go back to the farm).

    Granted this is just a theory, but I think that education, coupled with lack of diversity and PsiCop’s idea on the entrenchment of ideologies in one demographic or the other may lead to this schism. As I think about it, HumanistDad’s theory on land ownership may also be a major factor.

    If anyone has a study on this, it would be an interesting read.

    • Kit

      “In addition to this, education can be downplayed, as many younger people are expected to go to work on the farm instead of going to college.”

      I agree very much with this and I’m just commenting because I grew up in a small town (and as a visible minority, it was terrible), and I wanted to add to this. This attitude doesn’t just exist within your family or the community but within the school itself. Where I live, we have a standardized literacy test that we must pass in order to graduate from high school. We take it at tenth grade, and it consists of very basic reading comprehension. One of my classmates skipped it because he had to “help with the harvest,” (I put that in quotes because I suspect that was an excuse and not actually the case at all) and this was openly lauded by at least one of the teachers. They considered it a “unique” thing about our school and a matter of pride.

      Also, in combination with this, the low number of students in rural areas leads to cuts in many areas of study. For example, I know of another school in my district that cut grade 12 advanced level English, which is a prerequisite for any university. Any student that wanted to pursue post-secondary study was required to transfer high schools and then provide their own transportation to their new school.

    • Thegoodman

      I disagree. Inner-city school systems are notoriously awful. Rural school, while often smaller and less diverse, are better in general than inner-city schools.

      I went to high school in a rural community. Our county had 2 high schools, mine was the larger of the 2 with 1200 students (Sr High), the smaller had about 300 students (Jr/Sr High). Both have roughly the same percentage of students going on to college.

      The high school system in America is in as much disarray as the political system and neither rural nor urban schools are in good shape at this point.

      The education delta between urban and rural is primarily in the collegiate education level. The urban population has greater access to post-high school education, so they are more likely to use that resource.

      This is also effected by the cost of living in urban areas. To have a 500sq ft apartment in most cities, you need a job that pays well, so you need a college education. In a rural community, you can work in a factory making $15 an hour and raise a family, build a home, and own property. In a city, $15 an hour will have you sharing a loft with a roomate in a sketchy neighborhood.

      Success can be had in a rural community w/o an education. The same can’t be said of an urban community.

  • Jasen

    A big part of it is that cities tend to have more ethnic minorities living in them, and most such groups tend to towards the liberal side. That is why Dallas is a blue county surrounded by red ones, even though the suburbs are just as “urban” in most aspects.

    This also goes a long ways to explaining the blue rural areas, such as South Texas (majority Hispanic), and parts of the rural South (majority African-American).

    • Elemenope

      True, the effect of race would be difficult to disentangle with other factors. It doesn’t, however, explain the other major exception to the pattern, which is New England (rural and urban are both pretty solidly blue, though with margins that would indicate even here, the rural areas are more conservative).

  • Jeffrey Truman

    My question is: why doesn’t my large city (Phoenix, AZ) fit into this? It’s a rather conservative area, much more so that neighboring Tucson, AZ, which has a much smaller metro population (1 million vs. 4.5 million, less than a quarter). Granted, Tucson is much more of a university town than Phoenix (U of A lies in Tucson, but ASU is only in one of Phoenix’s suburbs and doesn’t influence its city like U of A does).

    • Elemenope

      Oddly enough, Maricopa County is drawn such that Phoenix makes up less than half its population. That might have something to do with the discrepancy at the county level.

      • Elemenope

        And to follow up, probably akin to the general blue effect of New England, Arizona being generally the most conservative place in the country probably cannot be overwhelmed alone by the urban/rural effect.

        • Jeffrey Truman

          I wouldn’t really call Arizona the most conservative place in the country. Tucson and Pima County are really rather liberal. Also, when I talk about Phoenix, I’m really thinking of the whole metropolitan area of Phoenix, which is most of the population of not only Maricopa County but the entire state. Now that I think about it, downtown Phoenix itself generally votes for Democrats. So now I wonder: under what conditions will the effects on a city spread out to its suburbs?

          • Elemenope

            Also, when I talk about Phoenix, I’m really thinking of the whole metropolitan area of Phoenix, which is most of the population of not only Maricopa County but the entire state. Now that I think about it, downtown Phoenix itself generally votes for Democrats. So now I wonder: under what conditions will the effects on a city spread out to its suburbs?

            Good point; I was neglecting the metro area. I imagine the usual factors affect how the suburbs go: wealth/poverty, employment, and race are the big three. Presence or absence of colleges probably have some effect, though even the largest (like ASU) are tiny in comparison to the populations they would be affecting.

            I wouldn’t really call Arizona the most conservative place in the country.

            It’s conservative enough that Biden felt comfortable cracking jokes at Arizona’s expense (specifically on the likelihood of electing democrats in the state) on the Daily Show last week. But, true, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Alabama are probably solidly in the running.

            Actually, just looked up the stats, and I was shocked to find in most recent polls, Arizonans don’t even rank top ten anymore on polls which measure % elf-described as conservative. Hm. Well, disregard my earlier comment, I guess. The times, they are a changin’. :)

  • Brian

    I thought I would share this, as it is a recent example of the difference between urban and rural areas. It is the county election results for Washington State’s Referendum 71, which voters approved last month, giving same-sex and elderly domestic partners rights equal to marriage:

    (If you aren’t familiar with the geography of Washington State, Seattle resides in King County…)

    • http://1790664,1225801 Brian


      I hadn’t done the Math on this until now, but if King County results were taken completely out of the equation, the result would have went from:

      951,822 (53.15%) Approved
      833,842 (46.85%) Rejected


      567,780 (46.32%) Approved
      658,021 (53.68%) Rejected

      Almost the exact opposite…

      • Zotz

        It’s not so simple. If you look at the results of the TABOR measure, a lot of the more “conservative” parts of the state voted against.

        King County does drive things, but we’re talking a more or less swing state without King County. Lots of independents and among the most unchurched.

  • Elliott

    I think I tentatively agree with those of you who say that city life forces people to interact with others, and broaden their social … whatever.

    Question though [to city dwellers]: how often do you really interact with someone on a level that pushes those boundaries? How often do your preconceptions or prejudices get challenged in a meaningful way?

    Is it just a matter of knowing other kinds of people exist that makes the difference? Seeing them on the bus, or having them bump into you on the street; is that the key? Because my social sphere is still predominantly young, white, liberal, natural-born Americans. And a good majority are heterosexual.

    JSYK, I live in San Francisco, and I do see people of all stripes, but I feel I’ve gotten good at tuning most of them out. Maybe that’s part of tolerance mechanism.

    • http://1790664,1225801 Brian

      You make a good point. I don’t necessarily think that living in a city forces you to interact with others at a level that would influence your views.

      Living in Seattle, and working in a retail store, I probably see and interact with people of every race, belief, background, etc. every day. Although I love interacting with all of the different people, I don’t think that the exposure to, or interaction with them influences my views. I don’t ever have political discussion with customers (even though I’d like to say “STFU” to the ignorant people who blame anything/everything on Obama…yeah, you have to have your ears showing in a passport photo, because of Obama…STFU!).

      Maybe liberal people move to cities, from rural areas, to get away from the people that are so isolated and stuck in their ways. I was born and raised in a rural farming/ranching town, with a population of about 3,000 people. I didn’t “change” because I moved away from there. I moved away from there because I wanted to get away from there. I still cringe every time I go back to visit, and see/hear what the isolation does to the people who live there. A majority of them are exactly how you would expect them to be: racist, under-educated, homophobic white people.

    • Siberia

      Not American, but I lived in one of the biggest cities in the world, São Paulo, and before that I lived in Rio de Janeiro. So:

      Question though [to city dwellers]: how often do you really interact with someone on a level that pushes those boundaries?

      Honestly? Over here, at least in those two cities, it’s almost impossible not to interact with different people. Even if you don’t directly interact you know someone who does or have an acquaintance who is, or something. At the very least you see it. It’s there. I mean, while I don’t directly have friends who are gay, my sister does and so does my mother. My brother-in-law does. Some coworkers are (even if I don’t directly work with them). I know probably more people who are and are afraid to come out (because, to my unending shame, my country still has utterly backwards ideas about homosexuality. Damn Catholicism…).

      Race and religion I won’t even consider because it’s nearly impossible to avoid entirely someone of a different race and/or religion (this may be a characteristic of Brazil, though). I grew up with Muslims, one my best friends converted to Hinduism, the other is Buddhist…

      I can’t really say if this was my experience alone. I’d think it is. Sure, most of my friends are white heterosexuals but I’ve had a good share of variety until now (I’m 25… there’s time).

      How often do your preconceptions or prejudices get challenged in a meaningful way?

      Well, pretty often. That may be because I’ve always had a skeptic streak and I’ve been, since I was a little kid, exposed to several different religions, races and perspectives. But think of it this way: it’s harder to demonize people you see every day, doing every day things in utterly unharmful ways. Even if you don’t interact with them much, chances are you will, eventually, even if it’s just in a store or a bus ride. It’s easier to see people as people if you’re exposed to them more often.

  • PuntyBunny

    People operate on instinct a lot more than they are aware of or would care to admit. I think evolution has hard-wired humans for living in groups not much larger than a small village. Living in a sparsely populated rural area really highlights this. We love to gossip, because it’s vital we keep up with what’s happening around us. And even if we don’t all agree on the same things, we work together in unspoken ways to enforce some commitment to neighborhood mores. It’s efficient if the whole group has the same goals. Cuts down on fights & other wastes of energy.

    You don’t have to do that in the city. Our neighbors next door are deeply religious & send their kids to xtian private school. I don’t need to fight with them on the policies of the school becasue my son goes to a diff school a 10 min drive away.

    I think if one could somehow artificially create a rural community with liberal values, you’d see the people apply the same punishments & rewards to enforce groupthink.

  • lurker111

    It’s the fluoride in the water.

    • Elemenope

      They sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

      • Custador

        Watch out that nobody sees the big board, Elem.

        • Elemenope

          In the name of Her Majesty and the Continental Congress, come here and feed me this belt! The Red Coats are coming!

          • Elliott

            I do not avoid women, but I do deny them my essence.

        • Jabster

          An excellent film with some great comedy moments (the self destruct mechanism that blows itself up; trying to get through to the US President with no money) and some great performances. For me that’s a tie between Peter Sellers as Captain Mandrake and Slim Pickens.

          • Custador

            Peter Sellers wins by playing so many different roles in one film :-)

          • Elemenope

            Peter Sellers is a shoo-in because he is playing so many roles. For my money, though, my favorite performances in that film were between George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden.

    • http://1790664,1225801 Brian

      They just call it fluoride. It’s really a big government conspiracy. Don’t forget to line your stocking caps with aluminum foil this winter!

  • InquiringMind

    This is an extremely interesting conversation. I’ve only commented once before, but feel compelled to do so again. Please excuse my rambling, as I have several somewhat incoherent thoughts to add:

    I live in one of the very rural, farm based areas (actually, rural states) being spoken about. My HS graduating class was 30. I currently live in a town of less than 3,000 people. I am a fairly moderate liberal, and my sister is much more liberal than I am. We both were raised by conservative Republican Christians (both of whom lament our current political & religious choices but still love us!), who luckily taught us the value of education and that there is more to this world than our small corner. We traveled a lot when I was young, which helped immensely. My parents scrimped and saved so that we could attend local theatre productions, see New York City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Las Vegas, and go overseas with our foreign language club. Many young people in rural areas do not have those advantages. The younger the exposure to others who are different, the better, I think.

    Many of the theories being tossed around are quite valid. I think for each community/family/individual, the reasons will vary a bit for why they aren’t liberal. Some genuinely believe in conservative values and have researched into them vs. liberal ones (though often their “research” is biased); others simply have no idea about anything “foreign” to their personal lives; others have been taught ignorance, either willfully/knowingly or through their parents’ own ignorance; others have been out in the bigger world and returned home, for various reasons; still others were brought up in the conservative Christian faiths and refuse to look beyond them.

    It is very true that rural communities just aren’t exposed to the “different” and therefore, fear it. It is also true that rural dwellers are isolated from the rest of the country, nay, world, and simply have a hard time understanding problems on a larger scale than what affects me/my family/my town. Which, in rural dwellers defense, a lot of urban dwellers cannot understand the plight of the family farmer, etc. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of people you have never met in real life, no matter how hard you might want to or how much you *think* you do.

    The comment made about conformity also hits home–I cannot “come out” as questioning in my “faith” to any of my friends, or I will have NONE–a former friend from HS who is gay skipped our reunion this summer–I believe in women’s rights to their own bodies, but dare not say it out loud virtually anywhere.

    Education isn’t *quite* as bad as some would have made it out to be, esp. when it comes to elementary schools, but small town HS students definitely are at a disadvantage, no question about that.

    More simply, I think “like breeds like” when it comes to social upbringing (not sure if that’s the right phrase), and when you’re raised in an area where everyone returns “home” even after attending college, where you’re praised for living 15 minutes from grandma and helping with Auntie Sue’s bible school program, where you’re expected to have 2.5 kids and a dog, where you attend church once a month (or more, depending on your age–many of my young counterparts in small towns don’t go, though profess the same values/live by the Bible/religion, whatever you want to make of that) because you’re supposed to, where you have not been exposed to ANYTHING other than people who ALL do that and who all think/act/look like you–it’s really hard to do or be something or someone different, even if you really want to.

    /end ramble

    I don’t know how much any of that contributed, but I wanted to add my 2 cents, for whatever it’s worth. Basically, the summary of my rambles is that virtually everyone who has commented regarding why rural areas are conservative have hit on a small part of the bigger “why,” which I believe to be an accumulation of all the reasons together.

    • InquiringMind

      I wanted to add that when I say “ignorance” I mean it in the sense of not knowing about the larger world, not in any “smart/intelligence” definition. Thanks. Sorry if it could be taken the wrong way.

  • Bissrok

    Having just moved from a very liberal part of a major city to rural Missouri, I’d say the biggest difference is religion. The Conservative party is known for having more religious ties and Liberals tend to represent a lot of the qualities people out here resent, and they see us as stuck up and out-of-touch with the common people. It’s cliche, but that’s how a lot of people here really see it.

    And the people in the city may benefit more from liberal programs, but the poverty rate out here in the rural parts is astounding. They’re certainly benefiting here, too.

  • Barry

    The land ownership idea is interesting. I have a lot of extended family in northern rural mo souther iowa and the vast majority of them are strong democrats and land owners. They are so strong of democrats that they voted for a canidate in the last presidential that was black, which is odd because I know that there is a high level of at least closet racism with a lot of them. They hated Bush and merely tolerated Reagan.

    2 thoughtsquestions

    Many farmers i know survive on subsidies, would this be of more help with democrats in office or repubs?

    Iowa is an extremely rural state and it defies a lot of the ideas being floated around here. Look at the county by county results and even in small counties the vote was extremely close and often going to obama, not the result we might expect. Why does iowa seem to be an exception to the rule of the general premise of the post?

  • Peter Sloan

    I think city-dwellers are more comfortable with the abstract. Living in a busy, densely-populated place requires you to rely on less personal “systems” to help you survive. Rural folks can rely more on direct personal relationships.

    The Democrats are the party of structural change and abstract ideas. The Republicans are the party of identity politics and “family values.” Seems like a pretty straight-forward corollary.

  • Bitsy Haywood

    I think any time you have smaller communities religious organizations will have a larger effect on people’s lives. Basically, the religious organizations are the core social organizations in a smaller community. They are the groups that people belong to their entire lives, and that many of their friends and family also belong to, generation after generation. People are raised in the same denomination and congregation that their great-great grandparents attended. They provide a stable structure for social interactions and a place to celebrate personal milestones and group holidays. They teach commonly agreed upon social mores and reinforce cultural values. Darned shame that they are all interwoven with a religious mythos that is based on a nearly unbroken culture of power, insantity, cruelty, murder and lies dating back to the late stone/early copper ages. It’s no wonder that rural people are the most religiously conservative. Also, they’re not for the most part very well educated or traveled as a group, so they have fewer experiences to contrast against what they experience in their faith.
    Additionally, embracing athiesm will result in becoming a permanent outsider to the group that has been a person’s basic social family structure. That takes more guts than most people have, so if they have doubts, they just keep their mouths shut and go to church anyway.

  • wazza

    My brother-in-law, a city dweller all his life, expounded once on the point of paying taxes in order to create a social safety net, even if he’ll never benefit from it. Might it be that country people are closer to the actual production areas, and so feel they’re more secure (in terms of being able to produce their own food) than city people? Or perhaps the sense of community you get in small towns means they don’t see the need for government programs to fill the same space?

    • wazza

      (by expounded on I mean explained, at length, his vociferous support for such an idea)

  • Goddamn Athiest

    I’ve lived in both. Raised in the city and have lived on and off in the country.
    Currently I live in a small South Texas city.
    The majority of people in this town couldn’t understand last year how McCain could have lost the election.
    It was just beyond them.
    This town is very reactionary.
    About 35 years ago if you ran for office you had to be a Democrat. Not now.
    Now you have to be a Pro Life Republican. Anything other is “Liberal” or “Socialist” and in some cases “Communist.”
    As for crop failure, that is what CROP INSURANCE IS FOR. Today’s farming isn’t like it was 60 years ago. It’s a business and at times professionally equal to that of say engineering.
    Almost every place you go here, that has a TV for the public to watch, it is 99% of the time tuned to Fox.
    Highway 59 goes “past” this town. It does so for a reason as I jokingly say.
    I would say that even with todays mass media, the people here are isolated.
    In a way, they like it.
    I would assume that they think if they keep it that way then they will be protected against the “bad” things out there.
    It doesn’t. It just makes them ripe for such things as gangs, drugs and so on.
    And they do have gangs, and drugs and so on.
    People here go church, not so much I believe for religious reasons, but for social reasons.
    They are their own “social” communities. They have events for adults, teens and children.
    So when you isolate yourself as such you don’t expose yourself to other things. Such as other sources of information.
    If they were in a city like Houston, Chicago, or God Forbid…NEW YORK, they’d have access to more things, more resources, more information outlets, and more people to socialize with and share ideas.

  • Zarathustra

    admittedly, i didn’t read all the comments, but this has been studied previously. Emile Durkheim saw this phenomenon in France in the 19th century. If i remember correctly, he posited that it was a matter of other people interfering with a persons affairs. Rural areas have fewer people, so those people can pretty much do what they want without concern about bothering others and expect the same treatment. Urban areas have lots of people, so those people are more commonly effected by other’s actions. Therefore, the urban people expect people to restrict their behavior for the benefit of the group. These norms become political stances and essentially define the basics of conservative v. liberal.

  • Thegoodman

    Traditionally, the democratic party was “blue collar” and the republican party was “white color”. I grew up in the middle of no-where Indiana.

    The old rules were this: If you are poor, you were a democrat. If you were wealthy, you were a republican. If you worked for a union, you were a democrat. If you worked as a professional and/or owned a business, you were a republican. Every person was christian, so it was a non-issue. Every person was essentially uneducated, so that was a non-issue. Money was the only dividing line in the area that I grew up in.

    The republican party in recent years had a tremendous advertising and smear campaign on the democrats and they have been largely successful in certain demographics, particularly the uneducated bracket.
    From what I understand from conservatives, these are the new rules:
    -If you are a democrat, you hate Jesus and/or work for Satan.
    -If you are a democrat, you love killing babies.
    -If you are a democrat, you think all hard workin’ mericans should be taxed 90% to support unemployed illegal immigrants.
    -If you are a republican, you work hard and love America.
    -If respect the life of non-christians, you hate America and thus are a democrat.
    -If you accept the proof of evolution, you are calling Jesus a liar and you hate him, thus you are a democrat.
    -If you support any new ideas, you are saying you think America needs to change, which means you hate America, thus you are a democrat.
    -If you question our military leaders, you hate America, thus are a democrat.
    -If you don’t go to christian church, you hate America (which is obviously a Christian nation) and are thus a democrat.
    -If you think all non-Americans are terrorists; you are a right, they are; and you are a republican.
    -If you think FoxNews is biased, you are a flaming liberal and stupid, thus you are a democrat.
    -If you think FoxNews is a great and honest news source that gives you the raw data that allows you to interpret it for yourself, you are a Republican.

  • brgulker

    I think what PsiCop said above would be my working theory:

    As someone who’s lived in rural areas most of my life but also lived in cities now and again, from what I can tell, the people in the cities are, largely, the recipients of the kinds of programs that liberals tend to promote.

    The only caveat I would ass is that poverty is increasingly common in rural areas as well.

    • brgulker


  • Anthony D Jacques

    IMO, this is all due to inbreeding, which everyone knows happens more in the country-side. :P

  • Chris

    I didn’t have time to read the previous 70+ comments, but I think the issue also deals with lack of public infastructure in more rural areas. I came from a very traditional midwestern state, and now live in NYC, and must say that the amount of public infrastructure influences peoples things on issues like taxes, where the things being paid for are mostly funded from taxes. Where I am from, we also don’t see the need for the government to intervene in our lives, because we don’t feel close to the government because when things are more spread out it promotes free-market economics (as we don’t have investments except in the private sector), and limited government (as its not around).

    As for the social element of conservativism, I think that, while there has always been an element of looking to the past, ever since the 2nd Bush administration, it has become plagued with the religious right, which is embarassing, and makes me a bit sad to be a conservative.

  • Lex Luther

    City Liberals, Rural Republicans, WHAT!? All of these comments are utter nonsense, Democrats and Republicans are only labels; they mean nothing, and both are dead wrong. What is it about folks that makes them want to be labeled, or makes them think they alone are so righteous in their beliefs, or that they can save the whole world? Easily 90% of you are guilty of expecting someone else to do the work you “think” would fix these problems “YOU” have helped to create, as you continue to commit the acts you say, “I am against” through your sheer ignorance, waiting for others force change before you act. Really, what needs to happen is for a comet to strike the earth smack-dead-center, this would allow the majority of the human race to perish, the real answer to their prayers, (kumbaya). It is obvious that you have become an ignorant oily humanoid parasite, who is not grateful for the life you have lived, you now feel guilty and expect everyone to live absolutely equally, and wish to manipulate the “earth” to do so, thinking you alone know what’s best, by trusting in the faulty works of man, while you are so easily convinced by what sounds good to your ears. Yet, your own works are severely lacking, you have been lazy, you have consumed much, and you are self-satisfied. Good LUCK to you, the day is coming to finally put to an end to your cries, which have been clearly heard above, there is no stopping what is about to come for you. To all you “earth-savers”,…BBWWHAhahahah!

    • Custador

      Wow, BatshitCrazyMoFoTroll. Don’t see that often. Oh, wait…