Can government help grow rural towns?

Aug 19, 2013

Main St., Mendota, IL
Credit wayne's eye view/Flickr

We don’t like you. You caused our problems. You don’t care about us. Help us.

That might be a bit of a crass interpretation, but it encapsulates what a chunk of rural voters seem to think of government and their elected officials.

A survey conducted for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs found that nearly half of rural voters believe the federal government is to blame for rough times in rural America and they think that government could improve the situation in their communities.

“They (rural residents) believe they are being ignored in favor of people in the cities,” the survey report says. “They think it is easier to make a living in cities compared to rural areas and they think their way of life is fading because these groups are getting ahead and they are not.”

While there was plenty of government distrust evident in the survey, the responses showed that there are some government programs residents consider essential to life where the population is sparse – many want the government’s help in reversing the trend of shrinking small towns. The respondents were overwhelming in their desire to see government regulations cut for small businesses, but there was large support for government grants and loans for infrastructure projects such as sewers, quality pre-school programs, job training programs. There was support for tax credits for business and tax breaks for using renewable energy such as wind power.

The study surveyed about 800 voters in rural areas and small towns in the Midwest, the Great Plains and the southeastern United States. It was handled on a bi-partisan basis by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group. The point of the survey was not just to get a state of the mood of rural residents, it was designed for those who work in rural advocacy groups to help them engage rural residents to spur policy change – a sort of public policy playbook for those with a vested interest in rural life.

There may be some messages in there for those who are sent to Washington by the rural residents. One of the pollsters said that while the respondents leaned Republican, a Democrat might find success in some of those areas if the candidate was able to hit the right note on helping their economic situation improve.

While it’s not an election year, the residents were asked if they were better off than they were four years ago. Only 15 percent responded that things had improved. Yet there was optimism, as well. When asked to predict how things would be four years from now nearly half thought it would be.