This is exactly what the One Country Project is hoping to capitalize on as it seeks to rebuild trust and respect between coastal elite decision-makers and the people in rural communities who have to live with government policies.
Helmed by former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., the One Country Project is attempting to reopen the dialogue between rural communities and the rest of the country to develop more inclusive policies.
To start, the organization conducted something of a “listening tour” of Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by analyzing social-media traffic from Feb. 15 to May 15 to identify the most regularly discussed social, economic and political issues. The most salient topics were farming, climate change, education, health care, immigration, abortion and women’s issues.
What they also learned is that rural folks are, understandably, scared about the future of farming culture — due in no small part to what One Country’s analysis calls “an underlying feeling of ‘disrespect’ toward farmers and the agricultural economy from their fellow Americans.”
But despite feeling dissed even though they feed the country, their self-interest is slowly driving an open-minded attitude toward the contentious and partisan issue of climate change. The need for solutions that prevent future floods and farming disruptions “points to the possibility that there is a chance to reach rural voters with a discussion of reasonable responses to climate change.”
Not surprisingly, immigration was also found to be a much-talked-about issue. How couldn’t it be? I’m pretty sure I hardly saw any brown faces while I was out and about being a tourist in rural Wisconsin, probably because they were all toiling away on the farms. Some estimates say about half of all workers on Wisconsin farms are undocumented immigrants.
Still, social-media comments revealed a bias towards limiting immigration, preventing crime and vilifying the Democratic Party’s positions on undocumented migrants.
This in particular was worrying, because One Country found that “Democrats are characterized as lacking a solution and not acknowledging the fact that rural Americans believe there is an emergency at the southern border.”
This is an area where Democrats will continue to struggle as long as they lack a unified voice on immigration matters.
And if they keep painting rural Americans with the broad brush of intolerance, backwardness and hatred instead of trying to engage those populations with issues that hit close to home — such as the need for year-round visa programs for workers in nonseasonal industries like dairy — they’ll just keep widening the political chasm.
One Country heard rural residents loud and clear: Americans, especially Democrats, aren’t listening to people in the flyover states. They’d better start.
Continuing to make such a large portion of voters who represent key voting constituencies feel left out is, for Democrats who want a change election, perilous at best — and disastrous at worst.