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Resource: Progressive Strategies For Rural Engagement

ABOUT THIS TOOLKIT

How do progressives win again in rural communities? Why have we struggled to break through? What does it look like to meaningfully engage rural voters and gain support for our candidates? In this report, RuralOrganizing.org provides findings, insights, and recommendations for progressives working to rebuild power outside major metropolitan areas.

SUMMARY

Our extensive public opinion research confirms that rural people are no strangers to bold actions and big ideas. They know a corporate agenda in Washington, DC is holding their communities back, and strongly believe the rural way of life is worth fighting for—because small town folks look out for each other.

Our research shows that progressives don’t struggle in rural America because of our policy agenda. It’s pervasive stereotypes that keep us falling short—both progressive stereotypes about rural people and rural people’s stereotypes about progressives. Over the last two decades, many progressives became convinced that most rural people opposed their agenda of justice, equality, and solidarity, while many rural people became convinced that progressives are coastal elitists who care only for urban flourishing and want to fundamentally change their rural way of life.

These stereotypes are promoted heavily through right-wing media, and because many progressives aren’t present in rural communities to counter these stereotypes through everyday interactions, this false narrative has been allowed to continue.

To make matters worse, Democratic political consultants often respond to this dynamic with a communications strategy rooted in their own stereotypes about rural voters. So, rather than putting effort into understanding and addressing the real and legitimate concerns these voters face, many Democrats focus on trying to just “blend in.” This approach perpetuates the rural perception that “all the politicians are the same,” and the result is rural voters don’t actually see a local alternative to the Republican Party.

In this report, we provide concrete and specific recommendations for progressives looking to engage voters in small towns and rural areas.

In order to win again in small towns and rural areas, we progressives must:

  1. Address the distrust and stereotypes that are preventing authentic engagement.

  2. Build power and leadership locally using community care values-based framing.

  3. Develop a bold progressive policy vision rooted in rural prosperity.

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