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Did rural voters desert the Dems–or the Dems, rural voters?

Years ago, while at a meeting of Democratic women in Ketchum, a friend who lived outside of Wilder introduced herself as living in rural Canyon County.

When it was my turn, I said that, unlike Sharon,I was from urban Canyon County.

Everyone laughed.

Okay, I said it because it sounded funny, but it was true that I knew nothing about farms other than visits to my cousins’ homes were fun and we drank the pink milk.

Somehow, although the Nampa-Caldwell area has 158,000 people today, we still haven’t joined Boise, Pocatello and Bellevue-Hailey in being urban enough to elect Democrats.

There are several recent books out blaming Democrats for neglecting rural districts

Now, I knew we were being ignored–a presidential campaign team once coated our state convention with yard signs and then took them all when they left. What candidate wouldn’t want their party’s leaders to have signs?

But I thought that was because Democrats campaigned on a shoestring–and Idaho’s small population and Republican majority didn’t help our candidates much.


But now I have three books on Democrat neglect and have actually read one, Dirt Road Revival tells how a Maine native and a Harvard classmate managed to get a Democrat elected in a district that had NEVER elected a Democrat before.

The first surprise in the book is that many rural areas began trending Republican much later than I thought. The rural South made a u-turn after Democrats’ passed the Civil Rights’ Act of 1964. Democrats lost ground in Idaho about that time, but were competitive until the ‘Reagan Republicans’ of the 1980s.

But research by the Pew Trust shows that rural voters were pretty evenly divided between parties until their local economies failed to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

Some claim the switch showed anger over Democrats electing a black president, but the truth is that more rural people voted for Obama than for Hilary Clinton or Joe Biden. The current alternate theory is that rural people resent the banking and auto industries getting bailed out while their own situation worsened and their kids moved to find better paying jobs.

During the Obama administration, Republicans managed to flip 16 U.S. Senate seats–and 965 state legislative seats. Those legislative seats lead to the great gerrymanders of 2010 and 2020 which fenced Democrats together in one district so Republicans would have a solid majority in two or three others.

The Republicans sold an image of Democrats being “out-of-touch liberal elites waging a war on religion and small-town traditions.” Rural residents saw urbanites as looking down on them and their decision to put family, faith and home above ease or wealth. And the Democrats increased reliance on outside campaign consultants and ad campaigns didn’t help the image.

One study found that when presented with identical candidate resumes with different parties, 54% rural voters backed the Republican and only 38%, the Democrat.

That’s just a little better for Democrats than the current vote margin in much of Canyon County.

This divide wouldn’t have happened, author Canyon Woodward writes, if Democrats had bothered to listen. For example, rural voters care about climate change, but they can’t accept regulations on water or cattle methane emissions that would put them out of business. Technology has to develop before they can make some of the changes urbanites are pushing.

Woodward points out, “We all want affordable healthcare, broadband access, money out of politics and a solid education for our children.”

Rural voters also want to keep the kids near and to eliminate the poverty that feeds drug use and the suicide rate

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