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Political messaging to combat nostalgia and myths about rural America and family farms.

By Bob Scheier


In an essay in The New Yorker, Daniel Immerwahr points out many of the ideas that Americans hold about rural America are wrong, the product of a potent but often false combination of nostalgia and myth. His essay, “Beyond the Myth of Rural America,” inspired me to think about how to tackle this problem when we contact potential voters. Here’s a list of myths and truths I learned from the article, as well as possible messaging (my additions in italics) to address them:

Myth: Rural America is dominated by quaint family farms.


Truth: Rural America is dominated by large corporations seeking low-cost labor and land, corporations that take advantage of captive rural consumers with few other local options for purchasing the essentials they need (Hello, Dollar General).


Possible messaging: Federal health, safety, and consumer protection laws are the best way to prevent massive corporations from exploiting rural residents.

Myth: Rural America, and the family farms that characterize them, are currently under attack.


Truth: “The small farmer, standing on his property with a pitchfork, has been an endangered species for a century.” Household farming was the norm for only a surprisingly brief period in American history. The federal government and large corporations, not family farms or businesses, have been shaping rural America for more than one hundred years.


Possible messaging: Federal funding for infrastructure for rural broadband and incentives for new manufacturing and sustainable agriculture will help rural residents more than efforts to maintain a long-outdated myth of the family farmer.

Myth: Free trade deals of the 1990s and 2000s hit industrial cities the hardest.


Truth: Trump was right: industrial jobs in rural America have been decimated by free trade deals gone wrong. Urban areas have largely recovered from the effects of free trade deindustrialization, but rural areas have not. Because of their diversity, cities can hedge against economic fluctuations, but small rural towns have far fewer employment options. In the free trade era, jobs that once moved from urban areas to the countryside instead now move overseas.


Possible messaging: President Biden’s industrial policy focuses on rebuilding manufacturing, particularly in economically declining rural regions. Focus on the number, quality, and timeline for creating jobs in rural areas when you talk with rural voters.

Myth: Rural people live longer, healthier lives than their counterparts in the city.


Truth: Rural Americans on average die younger than those who live in cities, and the life expectancy gap keeps widening. And rural Americans are far more likely to take their own lives, too.


Possible messaging: Don’t be satisfied with the “stick it to the city-slickers” messaging of Trump and his MAGA supporters. President Biden and his administration are the ones taking real, meaningful action to support rural Americans.


You folks are the experts. Read the New Yorker piece here and email me your thoughts. And let me know whether you think debunking myths and replacing them with more positive, progressive messaging like the ones above will help persuade voters to embrace Democratic candidates in your districts.

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