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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Economy, the Election, and the Rural-Urban Divide

Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic:
Paul Kellstedt, a political scientist at Texas A&M University, told me that two big structural shifts in public opinion help explain why Biden has not benefited more so far from these green shoots of optimism.

One, Kellstedt said, is that the relationship is weakening between objective economic trends and consumer confidence. Compared with the days of Reagan or Clinton, more voters in both parties are reluctant to describe even a booming economy in positive terms when the other party holds the White House, Kellstedt noted. Given Biden’s record of overall economic growth and job creation, as well as the dramatic rise in the stock market, the consumer-confidence numbers, though improving, are still lower “than they should be based on objective fundamentals,” he told me.

Political strategists in both parties believe another central reason Biden isn’t benefiting more from the many positive economic trends under his presidency is that so many Americans remain scarred by the biggest exception: the highest inflation in four decades. Although costs aren’t rising nearly as fast as they were earlier in Biden’s presidency, for many essentials, such as food and rent, prices remain much higher than when he took office.

Compared with metro America, rural America is benefiting less from the growing economy.

Paul Krugman on rural America:
Indeed, American farms produce more than five times as much as they did 75 years ago, but the agricultural work force declined by about two-thirds over the same period, thanks to machinery, improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Coal production has been falling recently, but thanks partly to technologies like mountaintop removal, coal mining as a way of life largely disappeared long ago, with the number of miners falling 80 percent even as production roughly doubled.
The decline of small-town manufacturing is a more complicated story, and imports play a role, but it’s also mainly about technological change that favors metropolitan areas with large numbers of highly educated workers.

Federal programs, he writes, do benefit rural America, but..

While these transfers somewhat mitigate the hardship facing rural America, they don’t restore the sense of dignity that has been lost along with rural jobs. And maybe that loss of dignity explains both white rural rage and why that rage is so misdirected — why it’s pretty clear that this November a majority of rural white Americans will again vote against Joe Biden, who as president has been trying to bring jobs to their communities, and for Donald Trump, a huckster from Queens who offers little other than validation for their resentment.