The urban-rural divide is not just a “divide.” It is a widening chasm, one whose fissures were underscored by this month’s election results.
Large cities and suburbs supported Democrats. Rural areas went Republican. The results were that Democrats took over the U.S. House and Republicans expanded control of the Senate.
Those results were backed up by research. Based on a survey of more than 115,000 voters and 20,000 non-voters, The Associated Press reported, “Nationally, urban and suburban voters preferred Democratic over Republican candidates, while voters in small towns and rural places favored Republicans.”
There were exceptions, of course. However, the same split generally held true in Oregon, where the geographically largest part of the state was on the losing side of the governor’s race and high-profile ballot measures concerning immigration and abortion. Democrats also gained supermajorities in the Legislature, in part by ousting suburban Republicans.
In Washington state, urban areas ensured passage of statewide ballot measures that restricted firearms and enabled more criminal prosecutions of police officers who used deadly force. Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell was overwhelming re-elected by Western Washington and Eastern Washington’s Whitman County.
But with the exception of King and Jefferson counties, the state’s voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposed carbon fee, which should give the Oregon Legislature pause as it considers a state carbon cap-and-invest program.
In Oregon, Republican Knute Buehler prevailed in 29 of Oregon’s 36 counties but lost by a substantial margin to incumbent Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. In several rural counties, Brown didn’t crack 20 percent of the vote.
What does this mean for the rural Northwest? For politicians, they must be wary of treating statewide vote totals as mandates. If they assume otherwise, they will increase the urban-rural chasm.
For residents, they figure out how better to convey their story to urbanites: That they live in rural America out of choice, not because they are economic or geographic victims of circumstances. That they value the land and water because they interact with natural resources every day. That although they hold fewer degrees in higher education, according to state and national data, those statistics are irrelevant as far as rural residents’ intelligence, ingenuity and aptitude for solving problems.
And that without the daily toil of rural Americans, urbanites would not have the food, electricity, water and natural resources they take for granted.
This challenge is not new. Rural Americans have been telling their story for generations. But the 2018 election results give increased urgency.