Rural-urban divide is oversimplified

Brian Depew, executive director, Center for Rural Affairs

For the past decade, the media has been obsessed with the idea of a growing divide between rural and urban areas, often portraying it as a deep chasm separating the nation’s citizens.

A recent example of this coverage took it a step further. Not only are we portrayed as divided, but there are now suggestions that we should make it official through a divorce. Case in point: the Greater Idaho Movement, an effort by its supporters in eastern (rural) Oregon to secede from Oregon and join Idaho. The grounds for the divorce? The rural-urban political divide.

The narrative is over-simplified and makes three critical errors.

First, the typical coverage fails to acknowledge the nuances that exist within our political landscape. It is easy to categorize entire counties or states as either red or blue, but this overlooks the reality that every geographic area has a mix of Republican, Democrat, split-ticket, and non-voting individuals.

In suggesting that the solution to political difference is to divorce along geographic lines, the narrative ignores the diversity that lies beneath the surface. Any divided geography remains politically diverse, so not much has been achieved.

Second, the narrative wrongly assumes that all rural people share a common political agenda and cultural interests, while all urban people have a contrasting agenda and interests. This generalization is inaccurate. In fact, rural communities experiencing decades of disinvestment share a lot in common with urban areas facing disinvestment.

Finally, and perhaps most important, when national leaders or media outlets suggest the solution to difference is to get a divorce, they fail to grapple with the more interesting and difficult challenge of committing to the work of living in a pluralistic democracy.

For a pluralistic democracy to survive, we must be committed to the principles of democracy itself. We must commit to working together and seeking to understand one another, even in the face of disagreement.

While politics at all levels are currently strained and difficult, distancing ourselves from one another is not the solution. Instead, we work toward a society where everyone can be a full participant.


Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.