The Social Bases of Rural-Urban Political Divides: Social Status, Work, and Sociocultural Beliefs

Paige Kelly, Linda Lobao

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38 Scopus citations


The rural-urban political divide has sparked media and social science concern. Yet national studies of rural and urban voters have largely failed to draw from the distinct conceptual literatures produced by rural sociologists. We take a new look at individuals’ voting choices, building from two rural sociological literatures, research on spatial inequality and on the rural-urban continuum, to identify the social bases anteceding Republican voting in presidential elections. We analyze three social bases along which rural-urban populations vary: social structural statuses, work and employment, and sociocultural values and beliefs. We question the degree to which rural-urban differences can be accounted for by these factors. Data are from approximately 9,000 respondents to the General Social Surveys for election years 2000–2012. Our findings demonstrate that the literatures produced by rural sociologists provide a strong conceptual foundation for explaining rural-urban voting differences. Rural and urban residents’ differential social statuses account for the greatest variation in their voting choices. Sociocultural values and beliefs, particularly attitudes toward domestic social issues, are also important. Findings add significant insight into the variety of factors that differentiate rural-urban individuals’ voting choices as well as illuminate the need for greater emphasis on exurban voters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-705
Number of pages37
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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