Now that we have a pesky presidential election that some in the media feel worth is covering, there have been a flood of stories about the preferences of rural voters. Evidently we are a critical “bloc” in the next election. I suppose I can live with that.
You can read these stories just about anywhere, especially when it comes to Iowa, and the policy and verbal gymnastics candidates go through to appeal to rural Iowans are variously depressing, amusing, and inspiring. But one article from the Denver Post particularly caught my eye (thanks to the Rural Blog for creating an awareness). Here’s an excerpt:
Getting to far-flung areas is time-consuming, and crafting an effective message is difficult because many politicians don't understand the complexities of rural America, Dee and others said. For instance:
Many rural residents resent interference by the federal government, but their towns' existence often depends on grants and funding for infrastructure.
"It's our lifeblood," said Garth Boyce, mayor of Clayton, N.M., sitting in one of the handful of offices in the
two-story, red-brick building that houses city hall.
"The reason rural communities are competitive now is not because they love the Democrats. It's because they fell out of love with the Republicans," said Dave Walker, whose Democratic polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, conducted the poll for Rural Strategies in conjunction with the GOP media firm Greener and Hook.
Walker and William Greener said that to capture rural votes, both parties must find cultural and economic connections.
"Voters aren't looking for grandstanding or cheap symbolic performance," Greener said. [Full Article Here]
The article mentions a few uniquely rural problems- the long distances rural Americans must drive to access decent medical care, for example. And it examines other problems, such as rising fuel costs, which is perhaps a larger issue for rural residents than urban (because of longer commutes, etc) but really is a universal problem.
In fact, most of the sentiments expressed and issues examined in the article are not unique to rural areas. Voters everywhere dislike grandstanding and cheap symbolism. Health care is a problem for just about everyone in this country. Poor decisions regarding economic development are certainly not exclusive to rural areas; the absence of jobs that teach skills and provide a real future, and a corresponding proliferation of low-skill, dead-end employment is an enormous problem for urban neighborhoods struggling to revitalize. Certainly Iraq is the top political issue of our time, even if rural areas are taking a disproportionate brunt of the casualties.
What I take out of this article is a desire for common sense and government action that addresses issues that clearly are not being addressed through free markets. It sounds to me like the people interviewed would like government programs that use money wisely, target their benefits to those in need, and generally take on issues that are larger in scope than their community can solve. That’s not rocket science.
There are issues that are unique to rural areas. But most problems are universal; it is the solutions that can be geographically unique (the problem of affording health insurance is universal, but rural healthcare plans should probably invest more in telemedicine than urban plans) The candidates that can clearly articulate how their policies will address those issues will receive many votes. And it won't matter if the voters live in a town of 500 or 5 million.