Undoubtedly, we will continue to hear a lot about the growing urban-rural divide in North Carolina and across the nation. We’ve seen it continually in our electoral presidential vote maps for decades. It’s now reaching more of a breaking point culturally and politically.
A new article by John Harwood from CNBC highlights some of what we already know:
Republicans represent the smaller, fading segment, with less-educated, more-homogenous work forces reliant on traditional manufacturing, agriculture and resource extraction. Democrats represent the larger, growing one, fueled by finance, professional services and digital innovation in diverse urban areas.
This was, of course, made starker with the rise of the Donald Trump phenomenon in American politics. Anybody who spent time driving across parts of rural North Carolina knew Trump’s popularity was legit across the state. The first time I noticed the depth of the support was driving to a bluegrass festival in Burlington and seeing homemade Trump and “lock her up” signs on county and rural roads. And we all know that Trump offered up a voice of what some have called the “forgotten America” or the “forgotten man.” In America’s heartland, there are actually precincts where one has to drive for at least three hours or more to find one that voted for Hillary Clinton. More from the piece in CNBC:
The 2016 presidential race had signaled as much. Donald Trump carried 2,584 counties across the country, but calculations by scholars at the Brookings Institution showed that the 472 counties Hillary Clinton carried accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. economic output.
The article goes on to point out that this economic and geographical divide is now carrying over to U.S. House races as well. “With a few races still undecided, districts won by Democrats account for 61 percent of America’s gross domestic product, districts won by Republicans 38 percent,” declares Harwood in the CNBC piece.
Democrats are becoming the party of a wealthier and more affluent America packed into urban areas.
Of course, the political differences are sometimes more apparent at the national level. And the continued angst of some urban citizens of not being able to impose their political will on rural America is becoming more apparent.
We see some of the ingrained biases in entertainment culture or just in the media against rural America. Whether it be through television, particularly reality TV, or reporting on drug addiction or issues related to health or obesity. Urban fascination and obsession with J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” is only one recent example.
From a policy perspective, the divide is intensified by state and local governments bending over backward and opening the wallet to try and attract corporations like Amazon or Apple into urban sectors.
The good news is that North Carolina has a considerable rural population, the second highest per capita behind Texas. State policymakers have an excellent opportunity to champion liberty minded legislation that can again be a model nationally. The kind of deregulation and reforms that can specifically benefit rural communities too.
One glaring example and opportunity is education. With spending at all times high across much of the nation for education, North Carolina should be innovative in policies that produce measurable improvements instead of merely incessant calls for dumping more money in a far from perfect system.
Rural America supplies us with much of our energy, inexpensive food, clean drinking water, great tourism opportunities, and cultural enrichment. North Carolina and America can’t survive without it.