Chapter 3: Rural Politics and Governance

In Chapter 3, “Rural Politics and Governance,” we examine the political agency of rural spaces. We review conditions that both facilitate and constrain voting and other forms of political participation, discussing the incentives to participate in local politics in rural spaces. We inspect the formal and informal structures through which political competition is practiced in rural communities and examine the complex intergovernmental system. This chapter focuses on the interpenetration of urban and rural society that occurs in the rural-urban interface, emphasizing that planners and local officials should understand the inter-place when developing systems to provide essential services. Given the incentive to participate in political life in rural spaces, this chapter reviews several barriers to voting including gerrymandering and the disenfranchisement of people of color, notably those in the Black South. Using the 2016 presidential election as a case study, this chapter reviews the influence of rural voters in the U.S. today.

Author Podcast
Discussion Questions
Exercises

Discussion Questions

1. This chapter discusses the role of the rural vote in the 2016 presidential election. Ultimately, what was the role of the rural vote? How do you think the rural vote affected how rural people and places are understood as shaping the political system at the national level? How might the media portrayal of the vote shape the image of rural spaces?

2. Discuss the tension between personal freedom and collective commitments in community. How has this tension played out in today’s politics?

3. The Electoral College system in the U.S. was developed by Jefferson and Madison in the earliest years of the nation’s history as a way of off-setting what they feared might become a concentration of power in urban areas. Especially after the 2016 elections, many observers have questioned the continued value of the Electoral College in a representative democracy if it gives “rural” states disproportionately more power to sway national election results relative to their total population. What are the arguments for and against the Electoral College system? What are the implications for rural political representation and political power?

4. The rural-urban interface is more than an aggregation of discrete places. This chapter discusses an “inter-place” that is produced and structured by the social, economic, political, and environmental relationships that joins places together for a number of functions. What is the relationship between interface institutions and local governments? Do they govern instead of or in collaboration with the local government? What institutional structures have been developed to facilitate and organize interface politics? What sort of an impact might this have on rural places?

Exercises

1. Analyzing Electoral Maps. This exercise can be adapted for use as an in-class discussion, assigned in class and discussed later, or adapted for use as an exam question. Navigate on your browser to the 2016 election map compiled by the New York Times . The map is remarkable for its detail in that it represents the 2016 presidential election results for every voting precinct. Spend some time exploring this map. What does the map suggest about the geographic patterns of voting behavior? We are often used to seeing data such as these displayed at the county level. What do we learn from examining these data at the level of the individual voting precinct? Instructors may want to keep in mind how factors like issues of geographic scale, regional effects, and demographic factors like the Back Belt or Indian Country may be associated with spatial voting patterns.

2. Case Study. Box 3.2, “Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon,” demonstrates the tension between local people and the national government. Laws and policies dealing with issues of access to, and the use and management of, natural resources pit a variety of interests and agendas against each other. Write a 1-2 page reflection essay on this case, or a similar case, of local rural vs. national interest surrounding the natural land. What specific lessons are to be learned from this case? What are the implications? What are the lessons learned regarding policy, legal frameworks, and institutional structures? What does the case reveal about the roles of identity and power?