The Rural Voter:

The Politics of Place and the Disuniting of America

Nicholas F. Jacobs

Assistant Professor
Government Dept., Colby College

Daniel M. Shea

Professor of Government
Government Dept. Chair, Colby College

The widening gulf between rural and urban America is becoming the most serious political divide of our day. Support for Democrats, up and down the ballot, has plummeted throughout the countryside, and the entire governing system is threatened by one-party dominance. After Donald Trump’s surprising victories throughout rural America, pundits and journalists went searching for answers, popping into roadside diners and opining from afar. Rural Americans are supposedly bigots, culturally backward, lazy, scared of the future, and radical. But is it that simple? Is the country splintering between two very different Americas—one rural, one urban?

In this exciting presentation, professors Nicholas F. Jacobs and Daniel M. Shea pinpoint forces behind the rise of the “rural voter”—a new political identity that combines a deeply felt sense of place with an increasingly nationalized set of concerns. Combining a historical perspective with the largest-ever national survey of rural voters, Jacobs and Shea uncover how this overwhelmingly crucial voting bloc emerged and how it has roiled American politics. They show how perceptions of economic and social change, racial anxieties, and a traditional way of life under assault have converged into a belief in rural uniqueness and separateness. Rural America believes it rises and falls together, and that the Democratic Party stands in the way.

This conversation aims to offer a timely warning that the chasm separating urban and rural Americans cannot be papered over with policies or rhetoric. Instead, this division strikes at the heart of enduring conflicts over American identity.

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

This program is part of the ColumbiaDC CUP series.


"Forget what you think you know about rural politics in the United States. With high-quality data and careful analysis, Jacobs and Shea demonstrate that rural voters are not particularly down-and-out or fired up by religion, racism, conservative media, and ideology. Instead, rural economic and civic struggles, which are not unique, have generated a sense of place-based grievance that reflects rural voters' beliefs about the value of rural life and a linked fate as rural residents." Doug Roscoe, author of The Promise of Democratic Equality in the United States

Picture1.jpgNicholas F. Jacobs is an assistant professor of government at Colby College. He is a coauthor of What Happened to the Vital Center? Presidentialism, Populist Revolt, and the Fracturing of America (2022).


Picture1.jpgDaniel M. Shea is professor and chair of government at Colby College. His books include Why Vote? Essential Questions About the Future of Elections in America (2019).

November 01, 2023 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


Will you come?