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USA: Why Trump is so successful in rural areas

USA: Why Trump is so successful in rural areas

Despite some of his less than constructive policy proposals, Donald Trump is very popular, especially in rural areas of the USA. Election researchers believe that explaining this solely with conservative values ​​is too simplistic.

“Trump Country” begins somewhere in the middle of Frederick County in the US state of Maryland. There, where houses are scattered among fields and forests, Republican Donald Trump won almost every voting district in the 2020 presidential election.

The more urban districts were won by the Democrat and current incumbent Joe Biden, which is why he was ultimately able to win the county, as well as the state of Maryland. This is an example of a growing divide between urban and rural areas in the USA, which is likely to be very significant in the election in November. Frederick County, on the edge of the predominantly Democratic-voting outskirts of the capital Washington, is a political border area, so to speak.

Bitterness as an electoral driver

“Washington?” Chris has only a contemptuous “cesspool” for the US seat of government. The man in his mid-fifties waits three times a week in a diner on a highway, lives in the rural part of Frederick County and is not shy about his opinions. While his Spanish-speaking colleagues clear the tables next to him in the restaurant, he complains about what he believes is insufficiently regulated migration from South America and then lists a number of cultural policy issues that worry him just as much as the high prices in the supermarket and at the gas station. “You can probably guess who I’m going to vote for,” he says.

According to a number of studies, the idea that people like Chris support Trump simply because he represents conservative views on religion, abortion or gun rights is too simplistic. In election research, there is a lively debate about the so-called phenomenon of “rural resentment.” According to this, white Americans in particular, predominantly in rural areas, are driven to the ballot box by the deep-seated assumption that they will be forgotten or not taken seriously – both economically and culturally.

By fueling this bitterness, Trump gives his supporters the feeling that they are being heard, even without offering realistic solutions. For an electorate that already feels unresponsive to politics and the media, he creates a dangerous resonance with simple explanations – especially through the blanket demonization of immigrants. For example, the conspiracy theory that Biden’s Democrats want to replace America’s “traditional” electorate with people from Latin America has recently gained traction.

Dissatisfaction despite growth

What urbanization means politically can be seen in Frederick County: In 2020, Biden won the county as the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. The area has changed a lot in recent years. Medical research centers attract well-educated young people. Due in part to migration from Latin America, the population is one of the fastest growing in Maryland. Around 80,000 people now live in Frederick, the administrative seat of Frederick County. But growth also has side effects: housing has become scarce and expensive. Among other things, there is a debate about whether farmland should be sacrificed for new housing and the construction of a water-intensive data center.

Rick Weldon once served as a Republican representative in the Maryland legislature, but then turned his back on his party. He now heads the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. He welcomes the changes in his hometown, raves about the art scene and the annual Pride Festival. Could changes like these scare some people? “Definitely,” says Weldon. But he believes that a strong economy and diversity are linked. He thinks that people need to talk to each other more. “We have allowed ourselves to retreat too much into our own corners.” He also blames the media for this, which he believes contributes to polarization.

Weldon believes that this November’s election will again be a neck-and-neck race between Biden and Trump – which is also confirmed by current polls. Despite the booming economy in his county, Weldon senses great discontent among his fellow citizens. “You can’t blame Joe Biden for $4.50 gas,” he says. “Just like $2.90 wasn’t Donald Trump’s doing. But that’s not how people think.” The price of gas refers to a gallon, which is just under four liters.

What Weldon describes is a nationwide problem for Biden. Inflation has fallen and the job market is doing well, but prices for everyday purchases have settled at high levels. So when Biden over-hypes the economy, it can seem unrealistic to some people.

The right message

“I fear that we are in a time of discontent,” says Michael Sozan of the American Progress Action Fund, a left-wing US advocacy group. It is not only in rural areas that many feel alienated from politics. The social divide is generally widening. “People no longer have the same hope that their children’s and grandchildren’s generation will one day have a better life than their own,” says Sozan.

In the midst of this mixed situation, Trump has been rhetorically given the field. This is extremely dangerous for democracy, warns Sozan. The US system is not designed for leaders like Trump. In addition to targeted reforms, the right message is therefore also needed. In order to counteract people’s frustration, Biden and the Democrats must be “better storytellers”.

In this respect, one person in particular is currently shining: Trump. It is of secondary importance that he made decisions during his term in office that had devastating economic consequences for small farmers, for example. It was also Trump who initiated significant cuts to the postal service, which is particularly important for rural America. Chris in the diner is nevertheless convinced that the Republican would be the better president, for himself and the people in his village. There, he says, there is a bar, a gas station and many armed citizens. But no postman.

Source: Stern

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