What impact does the election have on rural America?

by Terence Merritt 09/11/2012

The short answer is very little impact. Here are two reasons why:

First, not a lot has changed. President Obama is relected, the Democratic Party retains control of the Senate, and the Republican Party retains control of the House. The political landscape at the federal level remains similar to the last two years. In this situtation power is split between parties and major policy changes require compromise and concession. Such a situtation is unlikley to lead to substantive policy changes for rural areas.

Second, there is no national rural policy. The United States lacks a set of defined policies for rural areas. Instead policies in rural areas are a complex web of regulations and programs from federal agencies, state governments, local governments, and non-governmental organizations. Policies can overlap and be contradictory. A consequence of this situation is that there is room for local innovation in rural policies. Local government and groups can test ideas and borrow successful ideas from others regardless of the political climate at the national level.

There are a few national policies that do have an impact rural communities. Roughly every five years the farm bill is passed which alocates money to programs in the Department of Agriculture. Everything from farm subsidies to grants for rural communities, to conservation programs are provided in the farm bill. The previous farm bill expiried at the end of September and Congress has yet to pass a new one. Whenever the farm bill comes up for renewal there is always discussion of radical changes; however, the agriculture committee members in charge of the bill come from states with strong agricultural interests and are likely to maintain the status quo. It is unlikely that there will be significant changes to the farm bill and therefore little change to rural communities as a result.

Another policy area that impacts rural areas are renewable energy incentive programs. Under President Obama funding has increased for biofuel, solar, wind, hydro and geothermal projects. Many of these projects are based in rural areas and provide a source of diversified income for farmers and ranchers. The funding for these programs will likely increase during President Obama’s second term.

Although the recent election will not lead to significant changes in rural areas, rural areas could impact future elections. In the 2012 election, rural residents voted strongly for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. The New York Times has a great map showing the county by county vote results. Demographic trends in rural areas, an aging population being replaced by younger people and Hispanics, could change the political landscape away from the Republican party. One rural resident recently wrote that he felt the Republican Party no longer repersented the conservative values of his rural community.

The election on Tuesday will likely have little impact on rural areas, however changing rural areas could impact future election cycles.

Picture: Katja Cappelen

Terence Merritt attended ICRPS in Norway in 2011. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from Oregon State University. He currently works at Oregon State University as an Institutional Research Analyst. Terence is passionate about politics, geography, and sustainable systems.