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The Role The Rural-Urban Divide Plays In Midwest Results


Our colleague Mara Liasson summarized Tuesday's election results in this way. Democrats have the people. Republicans have the real estate. She means the Democrats dominated cities and suburbs and carried the popular vote for candidates in the House. Republicans dominated less populated, rural areas. One of their advantages is they kept control of the Senate. That amounts to one of many ways we could talk of the urban-rural divide in America. Here's Frank Morris of our member station KCUR.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: You might think that the urban-rural split in American politics wouldn't apply to someone like Sen. Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat who grew up in a small Missouri town. She's made a point of understanding and looking after rural constituents. But this election, Republican ads painted her as an aloof, urban outsider.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Claire McCaskill says she's one of us. She stands up for Missouri farmers and ranchers. That's hogwash because in Washington, McCaskill sells us out when it matters. Our way of life is under attack.

MORRIS: Josh Hawley, a half-term state attorney general who handily beat McCaskill, picked up the embattled theme in his victory speech.


JOSH HAWLEY: This was about defending our way of life. It was about renewing it for a new day. And tonight, the people of Missouri said, we believe in that way of life, we believe it's not the past - it's the future.

MORRIS: Hawley carried all but four counties in Missouri. McCaskill beat him in St. Louis by 70 percent - 70 percent - but she lost by enormous margins in dozens of small, rural counties. Other contentious Senate races saw similar schisms, with Republicans in Florida, Indiana, Texas and Tennessee piling up huge victories in rural counties.

MICHAEL SMITH: I think the urban-rural divide got deeper.

MORRIS: Michael Smith is a political science professor at Emporia State University in Kansas.

SMITH: More than ever before. If you're from a metropolitan area, you're probably a Democrat. If you're from a rural area, you're probably a Republican.

MORRIS: Twenty years ago, the political parties divided rural counties on the whole evenly. A Pew Research Center study found that a decade ago Republicans began gaining ground and as of last year held a 16-point rural advantage. While Democrats did flip more than two-dozen Republican House seats, including two in Iowa and one in Kansas, they did it with overwhelming support in suburban parts of those districts.

And look at the Kansas governors' race. Democrat Laura Kelly racked up huge margins in urban and suburban counties, propelling her to a convincing victory over Kris Kobach, a much better-known Republican. Patrick Miller at the University of Kansas says she did it despite lopsided losses in most rural parts of the state.

PATRICK MILLER: A lot of that is explained by demographics like education, race, religion and how that is shaping what the average rural American looks like in a different way from the average suburban American.

MORRIS: And increasingly, that average rural American has less education and is worse off financially by comparison. It can leave rural voters, like Nick Sanford (ph), a mechanic in Lecompton, Kan., feeling misunderstood and left out.

NICK SANFORD: I just think it's a little different out here.

MORRIS: The difference is that many small towns have been losing jobs and seeing generations of their talented young people move to cities. Beth Vonnahme at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, says grinding economic decline can feed resentment.

BETH VONNAHME: Sure. I mean, it certainly alters how you feel about where you live if every time you go downtown, the downtown doesn't exist anymore and the hospital that used to serve you no longer exists. That's going to change you, and it's going to change the way you feel about urban areas, as well.

MORRIS: The current schism between the rising fortunes of urban areas and general decline in many rural ones looks like it's going to be a continuing problem for Democrats and an opportunity for Republicans. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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