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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rural America

I have to take issue a bit with this characterization of the importance of rural versus urban America in the political process. One of the claims is that rural America, particularly the part that are actually farmers, is too tiny to justify the attention the media gives to it:

[O]nly 17% of Americans live in rural settings anymore. Only 2 million of those people work on farms or ranches (USDA figures). Hell, only ten percent of the average farm family's income even comes from farming.... [W]hy in the name of John Deere's Blood-Soaked Wood-Chipper Gears, every time I hear a news report on what "real Americans" think do I wind up watching some farmer in their fifties and sixties bitch as they survey the blasted plains landscape behind them, and not only that, somehow their cultural observations are assumed to have more relevance than anyone else's?... [H]ow did we get to a point where this report may as well have started: "Hi there, Carol, we're about to talk to people twenty years older than the average American living a lifestyle less than one in five average Americans live ... to find out what the average American thinks" and somehow nobody blinks an eye?

There are four times as many Americans living in urban than rural areas.

I am biased - my brother is the third generation in my family working in the tractor business and I have relatives who are farmers, I worked my way through college partly by waiting on a parts counter at a tractor store - but I think it's a mistake to ignore the large number of people these "middle America" voices represent. In a state like California, cities like Woodland, Redding, Red Bluff, or Chico in the north; or Fresno, Visalia, Madera, or Merced in the south understand how dependent their economies are on the farm economy. There are more businesses than you might realize, belt and bearing shops, diesel mechanics, fertilizer providers, hydraulics, banks involved in agricultural finance, pump sales and repair, crop dusting services, truckers, insurance agents, and so on, and so on, that rely on the agricultural economy for their survival. More than that, there is a cultural tradition in these areas that is not limited to farmers or even to rural areas that embraces the ideals that you hear when farmers speak. I can think of many, many people who do not live in what we would classify as rural areas, family in Sacramento come to mind, who certainly are not farmers but grew up around it and still feel a part of that culture and embrace its ideals. I don't mean that they would support price supports, etc., they may or they may not, I mean that they share more fundamental social values. In any case, the somewhat dismissive view of rural America within the post is one that will do nothing to bridge a gap Democrats have had trouble closing. I am not a political scientists and apparently others disagree with me, and California is a telling example because votes in the larger cities tend to carry elections (same with Oregon and Washington), but I am worried about dismissing these areas as unimportant, and about how the current Democratic candidates will play in these areas once push comes to shove in the days ahead. Part of the post I didn't quote talks about how well Hillary will do in "middle America" and expresses optimism that it's a right-wing myth that she will have trouble, but I think she has lots of work to do yet to win over these voters and gain their full confidence. I am admittedly doing something you shouldn't do - generalizing from my own experiences - but I grew up in areas where farming had a large influence on both the social and economic fabric and I have been frustrated with the degree to which Democrats have been able to connect with people living in these areas. Maybe they don't need to, the urban population does dominate and "middle America" is quite set in its ways, but I think its a mistake not to try.

    Posted by on Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 01:53 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (15)


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    » More on rural America from Unexpected Value

    I know I should just let this one lie, but here goes.Mark Thoma references the article that I linked to in the previous post: I have to take issue a bit with this characterization of the importance of rural versus... [Read More]

    Tracked on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 06:34 PM


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