Poll suggests rural-urban divide is more cultural, racial and ethnic than political or economic

For the second time in three weeks, a major national newspaper has taken a long look at the disparities between rural America and urban America. First, The Wall Street Journal showed how rural measures of well-being resemble those of inner cities 20 years ago. Today, The Washington Post reports in a multi-story package, “The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities.” And, “On few issues are they more at odds than immigration.”

The main story and 10-minute video by Jose DelReal and Scott Clement are based mainly on a poll that the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation did of nearly 1,700 Americans, including an over-sample of more than 1,000 in rural areas and small towns so that population could be analyzed with reasonable error margins. The Post used a very broad definition of small, including “counties near population centers with up to 250,000 residents such as Augusta, Va. (population 74,997), close to Charlottesville.” In the poll’s terminology, “Urban residents live in counties that are part of major cities with populations of at least 1 million, while suburban counties include all those in between.”

The poll found a strong rural-urban disconnect: “Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are ‘very different.’ That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with about 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are ‘very different.’ . . . Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites.”

It also found a rural resentment: “Disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans. . . . Rural residents are nearly three times as likely (42 percent) as people in cities (16 percent) to say that immigrants are a burden on the country.” Among suburbanites, as defined by the Post, it’s 31 percent. But those views “are more closely tied to respondents’ party affiliations than to where they lived.”

Trump won the rural vote in exit polls by 61 percent to 34 percent. The Post reports, “While urban counties favored Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points in the 2016 election, rural and small-town voters backed Trump by a 26-point margin, significantly wider than GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s 16 points four years earlier.” However, “Rural Americans overall have mixed views on whether Trump respects them, with 50 percent saying he does and 48 percent saying he doesn’t, a finding that goes against a common theory that Trump won by providing a relatable alternative to political elites.”

What about economics? “Rural Americans express far more concern about jobs in their communities, but the poll finds that those concerns have little connection to support for Trump, a frequent theory to explain his rise in 2016. Economic troubles also show little relation to the feeling that urban residents have different values. Rural voters who lament their community’s job prospects report supporting Trump by 14 percentage points more than Clinton, but Trump’s support was about twice that margin — 30 points — among voters who say their community’s job opportunities are excellent or good.”

The package includes stories exploring rural America’s politics, immigration, race, and one about the finding that “Rural and urban Americans are equally likely to say grace.”

UPDATE, June 18: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones sees an interesting incongruity in the poll: “The perceptions of rural folks about their communities are out of step with what they report about their personal lives. . . . When unemployment rises in a city, it’s a diffuse problem that doesn’t necessarily seem related to living in a city. Conversely, when the same thing happens in a small town, it’s probably because a factory laid off 10 percent of its workforce. That’s a punch in the gut that makes you lose faith in your town. Similarly, when someone in a small town decides to move away to look for employment elsewhere, there’s a good chance it’s someone you know. In a city it’s just the guy down the hall that you nodded to every once in a while.” Drum also notes that when asked what government can do to improve their economy, 93 percent of rural people in the poll said infrastructure, while 63 percent said cracking down on immigrants.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Published on June 17, 2017. Article written by Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog. Post photo credit: Michael S. Williamson.

Rural Americans, Older Americans and Women Fear Secret Senate Health Insurance Bill is a Replay of House Bill and Hit Them the Hardest

Rural America took a real hard kick in the seat of the pants when the GOP House leadership went behind closed doors a couple of months ago to concoct a tax cut plan for the wealthiest Americans disguised as “health insurance reform.” Under that scheme millions of Americans would lose coverage altogether, most of us would pay more every time we see a doctor or undergo treatment and older Americans would be hit with a de facto health tax levied by the insurance industry.

Now the Senate GOP is at it, working behind doors to try to sugar-coat the House bill that made America sick. Expectations are it will be watered-down, but it will still lead to the same results: Americans losing their insurance; less coverage for consumers and older Americans are going to get hit the hardest in the wallet.

There is little hope that the lobbyists who are working out the details of the secret Senate health insurance bill have the best intentions of Rural America in mind. Rural woman in particular expect to pay more and will still get less coverage to protect their health before, during and after pregnancy. That is a cruel way to behave for a party that likes to market itself as one that celebrates life.

The GOP priority shouldn’t be to repeal Obamacare just because Republicans don’t like the guy it’s named after. Reform should be undertaken to improve the product and services for the betterment of the Americans consumers. It says a lot when even Donald Trump says the GOP health insurance plan is too “mean.”

The Broken Promises of Trumpenomics and Ryanomics

From manufacturing jobs to agribusiness to affordable health care made available to more Americans, the GOP leadership is in the midst of pulling off one of the biggest bait and switch schemes in the history of campaign trail whoppers. Fortunately, the reality of market forces and economic fundamentals has a choke hold on some of the empty promises of the new administration and same old Congress in Washington. Unfortunately, however, there is still a path of pain that the current leadership is able to force Americans to walk.

Many people are counting on a Trumpian promise of seeing their factory jobs (yes, there are factories in rural America, too) return from cheap labor markets short on health and safety requirements, like China and Vietnam. Instead the administration rolls out the red carpet for the leaders of those very same countries, along with Saudi Arabia and a growing list of others. The GOP leadership in Congress refuses to allow even this GOP White House to penalize corporations, individuals and investors who move U.S. jobs overseas, choosing excessive greed over a profitable greater good of America. Off-shoring American jobs is a big part of why the manufacturing sector is on unstable ground for U.S. workers.

The promise of jobs returning from overseas is deceptive. No matter how much happy talk comes out of the White House, the truth is despite facing slower growth, China will continue to outpace the industrialized world in creating new manufacturing jobs, and tiny Vietnam enjoys a $32 billion trade surplus with the U.S. that will never be balanced.  It’s the difference between sound economic fundamentals and the Trumpenomics era of broken promises and a fictional pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Even the most optimistic projections forecast only minimal growth for those coveted U.S. factory jobs that are essential to rural, suburban and urban workers alike. Very few jobs that moved overseas are likely to return to the U.S., do we must be innovative and ensure existing and new jobs remain here.

The fact is economics of global trade is not something the White House or Congress should pretend they can alter with a few meaningless words (like “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be tired of winning.”), but how the government invests tax dollars is something the leadership has complete control over. Sadly, that isn’t working out very well for most Americans, either. It’s no less than shocking the amount of anguish the Republican bean counters plan to dish out to Americans with their budgetary politics, especially to older voters and the most vulnerable citizens.

Trump backers are not immune to the suffering. Washington insider Ronald Brownstein details the callousness the administration shows its own supporters in The Atlantic, explaining “because Trump extends his budget cuts so deeply and broadly through income-support programs, the reductions still inevitably reach many of the lower-income and less-educated whites that have emerged as the cornerstone of the modern Republican coalition. Brownstein cites several powerful examples of how white Americans are targeted to lose coverage under the Ryancare/Trumpcare swindle, pointing to one study that paints a bullseye on millions of white Americans in the rural Midwest, the largest sub-group to receive health insurance under Obamacare.

The Trump budget specifically takes a chainsaw to programs that support farmers, ranchers and related agribusiness, clear cutting through insurance, loans and subsidies that put food on America’s table and money in the pockets of American voters. It is a strange way of saying “thank you” to the rural residents that played such an integral role in electing the GOP leadership in the White House and Congress.

It’s worth citing one pledge the White House recently announced it’s keeping: the withdrawal from the nearly universal global membership of the Paris Climate Accord. However, even that stunt is part of a larger broken promise: the return of jobs in the coal industry. Just as the Trump administration was announcing a gradual exit from that deal to limit the role mankind has in the earth’s changing climate, New England’s last big coal-fired plant and two others were being shut down — and there was not a thing anyone in elected office could do about it. It’s all about market forces. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal. Period. The promise of a new life for coal country is a bad joke played on good Americans who deserved to hear the truth, not a pack of lies that give them and their families false hope.

Quitting the Paris Accord is also putting in jeopardy the growth of the U.S. renewable energy sector, a vast job creator for Americans that is significantly outpacing the mature fossil fuels industry. What is truly amazing about the decision to give up the leadership position the U.S. enjoyed atop the Paris Climate Accord (ceding that role to China, of all places) is the economic impact that move will have on Americans. As one very smart analysis shows, the U.S. is going to lose jobs, wealth and economic clout with that decision to dump the Paris Accord. The current leadership in the White House and Congress is putting the future of the U.S. at risk with such thoughtless moves, and for no good reason other than petty politics.

The partisans and pundits in Washington will tell us “don’t worry, the White House budget will never see the light of day once Speaker Ryan takes over the process,” but there is plenty of evidence that Ryanomics will be just as painful as the blistering budget and short-sighted policies that the White House concocted. It’s all supposed to make the GOP base feel good, yet other than the trillions in tax cuts promised for the wealthiest among us, the never-ending broken promises hurt most of the voters that elected this Republican administration and Congress in the first place. Like all Americans, they deserve better.

CBO: Lower Premiums Would be a Result of Providing Less Coverage; Latest GOP Bill Would Raise Cost of Health Care for Many Americans

The rewrite of Trumpcare/Ryancare did very little at all to cure the earlier version of GOP health care reform, killing coverage for 23 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis released today.

Here are the most significant points from the CBO scorecard:

  • Lower premiums would be a result of offering Americans less coverage
  • Latest GOP bill would raise overall cost of health care for many Americans
  • Premiums for low-income elderly would rise 800%
  • The bill is a very poorly disguised tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and corporations
  • Rural States would be among the hardest hit

The takeaway? All of this is why:

Our lawmakers need to serve the needs of Americans instead of simply carrying the water for special interests and an extreme minority of Washington lobbyists. Americans deserve a better deal.

Administration’s Budget Plan Would Slam Rural America, Cripple States; Pie in the Sky Proposal Would Most Likely Force States To Raise Taxes

It raises a red flag whenever Washington tells us it plans to cut our taxes, because in the end it simply means the federal government will not be sending more of our hard-earned money back home to the states. So America if you want the services you have come to expect or need, you better get your states to raise taxes to make up for the loss.

This latest budget proposal, the brainchild of White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, is particularly devastating for rural Americans. Mulvaney will bark that the $1.7 trillion in cuts over 10 years will mostly hurt urban Americans, hawking the reduction in spending as welfare reform in thinly veiled code meant to confuse voters. But don’t be fooled. This budget blueprint, rolled out to coincide with President Trump’s attention-getting foreign trip, is a punch to the breadbasket for rural voters.

Consider these proposed cuts in the budget to departments and agencies that directly serve rural America:

  • Department of Agriculture -25%
  • Health and Human Services -16%
  • Department of Education -14
  • Department of Interior -12%
  • Small Business Administration -5%
  • Department of Transportation -13%

There are other examples, but we get the idea. Mulvaney is using the White House’s first full budget proposal to cut services to Americans to pay for massive tax cuts mainly for the wealthiest in our country. “Trumpenomics” dream of tax cuts that could be north of a trillion dollars over 10 years will without question hurt rural Americans deeply, many of whom are voters who cast ballots in favor of this administration that is turning its back on the their needs.

Adding to this inexplicable budget proposal is a laughable growth projection that runs contrary to forecasts from economic analysts with far more expertise then Mulvaney can boast.

“We believe that we can get to 3% growth,” Mulvaney said, providing no empirical evidence for his wishful thinking and ignoring the fact that actual growth the first three months of the new administration was the lowest in three years at 0.7%.

So here is the conflict: top economics experts using tools rather than guesses, like the blue chip Congressional Budget Office that is in the business of evaluating budgets, project growth at 1.9% through 2026. Would we love to see the gross domestic product average 3% over the next 10 years? Of course! But it does no American any good to throw out arbitrary, unrealistic numbers – just to pay for a tax cut.

It all amounts to a recipe for passing the buck to the states, which surely will be forced to raise taxes if this budget were to be approved by Congress.

Montana’s Great Homegrown Hope for Restoring Rural Values

Rural politics requires a never-ending search for the authentic, what-you-see-is-what-you-get candidate. Rural America isn’t about whom you know in Washington, Wall Street or Hollywood; it’s about electing one of our own that we can trust to keep his promises and look out for us, not the special interests.

Meet Rob Quist, the singing cowboy of Montana, who has his opponents sweating out the May 25th special election for the House of Representatives – and has left his own party’s bicoastal elites wondering if maybe they were a bit hasty in kissing off this gun-toting, hard-working, affordable-quality-health-care-for-all populist.

Quist comes from a small town you might think you read about in a Mark Twain tale called Cut Bank, Montana, and even the name of his bluegrass and country rock bands, the Mission Mountain Wood Band and Great Northern, sound as genuine as the summer sky. Quist picks at his guitar, playing folksy tunes he’s penned that sound an awful lot like campaign slogans, song like “Living Wild and Free,” and “Honor Bound.” He trumpets the entrepreneurial spirit and values small businesses, while condemning unnecessary red tape that gets in the way of job creation. Quist loves the land and promises to protect the air Montanans breath and the water they drink.

Thanks to his non-stop campaigning in a Winnebago he calls his rolling campaign headquarters, along with a mountain of small-ticket contributions to his campaign, Quist has made the fight for the statewide at-large House seat in Big Sky Country a real brawl. At least one poll has the contest down to single digits, and Quist is even outraising his opponent in campaign contributions.

Not surprisingly, Quist has his carpetbagger, multi-millionaire transplant from New Jersey linked to unsavory Russian companies calling in all his Washington cronies, including those named Trump, because Quist is building a dangerous base in the eyes of his opponents: rural voters. It’s a bloc that Quist’s party has watched steadily move away. Polls show that Quist’s national party only picked up 34% of the rural vote in 2016. With the support of other economic populists, like Bernie Sanders, Quist is looking to begin to reverse that trend, beginning in Montana.

And an upset victory not out of the question, either. This is a state that has elected some interesting and authentic Montanans, like Sen. John Tester, ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer and current Gov. Steve Bullock, the latter who slashed at Trump coattails last fall and defeated that same carpetbagger, multi-millionaire transplant from New Jersey who now faces Quist. It’s a populist bunch that calls Quist their friend, mainly for one reason: he is the genuine, real deal rural candidate who woos cattlemen and college students; factory workers and farmers, Native Americans and nurses; bikers and biologists; and every other kind of authentic Montanan you can imagine.

We Can’t Give Up Democracy to the Russians, or Anyone Else

Nothing is more coveted in western democracy more than an individual’s right to vote for the candidate or issue of their choice. While a privilege for all Americans, the rural voter who may have to travel many miles to get to a ballot box to cast a vote understands the value and meaning of democracy better than anyone.

So it is imperative that our elected officials do everything in their power to protect American Democracy. Unfortunately, there are some lawmakers who choose partisanship over protecting the right of every American to vote. There are endless examples of domestic voter suppression, but siding with potential associates of a foreign country intent on disrupting a U.S. election is unprecedented and wreaks of political treachery.

It is disheartening that many (although not all) Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are obstructing, or at least slow-walking, efforts to determine just how far Russia went to interfere in the 2016 elections. Democracy must remain a non-partisan issue. All avenues must be investigated to ensure Americans their vote is not compromised or tampered with.

We are at a moment in our history when we must consider elected officials who will protect democracy and uphold the law, no matter which party is in power. Unfortunately, the party now in power is showing signs it is not up to the task of protecting democracy from outside intruders, like Vladimir Putin. Today’s Senate hearing into Russia’s interference in the election was an embarrassment for the GOP, as the vast majority of Republicans, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chose to ignore their duty and sought to divert attention away from getting to the bottom of Russia’s malfeasance. It is a dangerous precedent.

(Note: this post has been updated).

Health Insurance Reform That Hurts Rural Americans: Whose Bad Idea Was That?

Any so-called health insurance legislation that hurts rural Americans is not reform; it’s institutional inequality, it’s unfair and it’s un-American.

The irony of all ironies is that the Trumpcare or Ryancare replacement for Obamacare (which went down in flames) would have eliminated health care for 24 million Americans, hurting white, rural America most of all. Clearly this bill would have eliminated coverage made affordable for many Trump voters.

There were sizeable subsidies for the urban poor in the GOP health insurance plan, along with a budget-busting tax cut for the richest Americans, but somehow rural voters and older Americans just didn’t make the cut, almost as if the conspirators who wrote the bill actually thought we wouldn’t notice. Since they’ve tried pulling off that bait and switch health care reform scheme once, it is not hard to believe that they will try it again, and maybe sooner than we all think.

It should be no surprise that the race for the vacant seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is emerging in part as a referendum on whether Congress should repair or repeal the Affordable Care Act. After all, it was the House seat of Tom Price, President Trump’s point man who, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, has led the administration’s charge for the repeal of Obamacare.

It also is no shocker that a rural state like Georgia will be taking the lead in seeing any mean-spirited overhaul of Obamacare gets usurped by plans for sensible incremental changes to fix the holes in the ACA. Jon Ossoff, a candidate for Congress in the mainly suburban 6th District, has a level-headed approach, calling for less ideology on both the left and right surrounding insurance reform and health care policy.

Ossoff says it plain speak: fix what is broken, dump what is not working and do not resurrect a system that sees Americans getting their health care attended to in emergency rooms at the cost of taxpayers. He proposes to find a way to allow insurance market competition across state lines, offer small businesses tax credits to help pay for coverage and repealing the unfair medical device tax.

This non-partisan approach is gaining momentum. Even the Georgia legislature plans to tackle the issue in some form because it is now committed to maintaining the Medicaid expansion set forth in the ACA. The not so deep dark secret is that Medicaid and Medicare are the most comprehensive and efficient health care plans available anywhere in the U.S. Expanding those programs is sound fiscal public policy. Of course there will be extremist lawmakers who try to dub any insurance reform socialized medicine, ignoring that sound health care policy and insurance reform are good for Georgia residents and the state’s economy. Health insurance reform means both immediate new jobs and ultimately taxpayer savings.

Georgia has no choice but to take the lead. Anthem Inc., the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, is serious about pulling out of Georgia, leaving residents without coverage. Blue Cross, the largest insurer in Georgia, is currently the only health exchange insurer in 96 of the state’s 159 counties. What is the fallout if Blue Cross opts out of Georgia? Rural residents will be hurt the most, and that includes an awful lot of Trump voters.

Rural Votes is Stepping Up in Tuesday April 18 House Race in GA6

Georgia‘s Sixth Congressional District affords us one of those unique opportunities to highlight the importance of rural and suburban partnerships. Health care, quality of life and education are issues that the more than 700,000 residents in the district feel strongly about — concerns that matter to rural and suburban voters alike.

Some 18 candidates are running in the district that stretches from east Cobb County to north Fulton County to north DeKalb County. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election then a runoff will be held June 20, pitting the two top finishers.

Polls show Jon Ossoff, a strong supporter of issues facing rural America, is the front-runner in the race, but he’s yet to break the threshold needed to avoid the runoff election, according to recently published polls.

Rural Votes specialty is identifying voters whose lives center around rural issues and that’s why this special election has drawn our attention and resources.

New rules will make it harder for many elderly, poor, black and Latino voters to cast ballots

New rules created ostensibly to stop voter fraud are making it more difficult for poor, black, Latino and elderly Americans, particularly in the South, to register for elections, Sari Horwitz reports for The Washington Post. “In November, 17 states will have voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Eleven of those states will require their residents to show a photo ID. They include swing states such as Wisconsin and states with large African American and Latino populations, such as North Carolina and Texas. Many of the residents struggling to obtain a valid photo ID are elderly and poor and were born in homes rather than hospitals. As a result, birth certificates were often lost or names were misspelled in official city records.”

Supporters of the laws argue that everyone should easily be able to get a photo ID, while “opponents say that the laws were designed to target people more likely to vote Democratic,” Horwitz writes. “Many election experts say that the process for obtaining a photo ID can be far more difficult than it looks for hundreds of thousands of people across the country who do not have the required photo identification cards.” (Post map)

In Texas, which has one of the strictest voter laws in the nation, a federal court found that “608,470 registered voters don’t have the forms of identification that the state now requires for voting,” Horwitz writes. Overall, “about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.”

University of California at San Diego researchers analyzed turnout in elections between 2008 and 2012, finding “substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws.” The study’s authors wrote: “These results suggest that by instituting strict photo ID laws, states could minimize the influence of voters on the left and could dramatically alter the political leaning of the electorate.”

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.