Symbolic versus material concerns of rural consciousness in the United States


Kristin Lunz Trujillo and Zack Crowley. 2022. “Symbolic versus material concerns of rural consciousness in the United States.” Political Geography, 96, Pp. 102658.


A potential explanation for the U.S. urban-rural political divide is a definition of rural consciousness comprised of three subdimensions: a feeling that ruralites are underrepresented in decision-making (“Representation”) and that their way of life is disrespected (“Way of Life”) – both symbolic concerns – and a more materialistic concern that rural areas receive less resources (“Resources”). However, it is unclear whether these different aspects of rural consciousness predict expected political preferences nationally, or whether they uniquely explain these preferences when evaluated alongside similar symbolic concepts like rural identity and moral traditionalism. We expect symbolic concerns (especially Way of Life) to particularly predict rural support for Donald Trump, Republican partisanship, and conservative ideology. Using a novel survey measure developed and tested across three original survey data sets, we find that only the symbolic subdimensions of rural consciousness positively and significantly correlate with Trump support, while the material subdimension either negatively correlates with Trump support or is not statistically significant. A similar tendency occurs when predicting symbolic ideology, except when controlling for moral traditionalism. Rural consciousness and its subdimensions do not significantly predict partisanship. These relationships hold for all respondents and for rural-only respondents. We conclude that rural consciousness may matter politically along symbolic dimensions, rather than materialistic grievances, for recent anti-establishment political support as opposed to standard left-right measures. We recommend that survey analyses of rural consciousness should separately analyze symbolic and materialistic aspects. Future studies should further investigate traditionalism vis-a-vis rural consciousness and explore non-rural people high in rural consciousness.