The Rural-Urban Continuum and the 2020 U. S. Presidential Election

Academic Article


  • Abstract The question, “What is rural?”, has become increasingly salient to scholars of American politics over the past decade, especially after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. While social and political tensions between urban and rural residents of the United States are now widely recognized, rural cannot simply be defined as the antithesis of urban. Using survey data and voting returns from the 2020 election, we illustrate how urban-rural differences are best understood not as a dichotomy, but as a continuum. Large metropolitan core counties comprise one pole of this continuum: their residents are most likely to vote Democratic, and to express liberal attitudes on a variety of topics. At the other pole are counties far from urban areas with no towns, where conservative attitudes are widespread and Republican majorities are substantial. Between the two poles lie a continuum of counties with widely varying positions along the liberal-conservative dimension and voting records to match. We find this urban-rural continuum provides considerable analytical utility even in a multivariate spatial regression model that incorporates numerous other important demographic, economic, and social variables. Our analytical framework takes a step beyond the bipolarity that typically characterizes the discussion of urban and rural America.
  • Authors

  • Johnson, Kenneth
  • Scala, Dante J
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • August 23, 2022
  • Keywords

  • presidential elections
  • regional voting
  • rural America
  • suburban America
  • urban America
  • urban-rural continuum
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 229
  • End Page

  • 255
  • Volume

  • 20
  • Issue

  • 2