The urban/rural political divide has grown in the last few decades:
As Democrats have come to dominate U.S. cities, it is Republican strength in rural areas that allows the party to hold control of the House and remain competitive in presidential elections…
The U.S. divide wasn’t always this stark. For decades, rural America was part of the Democratic base, and as recently as 1993, just over half of rural Americans were represented by a House Democrat, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Conservative Democrats often represented rural districts, including Ms. Hartzler’s predecessor, Ike Skelton, who held the seat for 34 years before she ousted him in 2010.
That parity eventually gave way to GOP dominance. In 2013, 77% of rural Americans were represented by a House Republican. But in urban areas—which by the government’s definition includes both cities and suburbs—slightly less than half of residents were represented by congressional Republicans, despite the GOP’s 30-seat majority in the House…
In 1992, Bill Clinton won 60% of the Whole Foods counties and 40% of the Cracker Barrel counties, a 20-point difference. That gap that has widened every year since, and in 2012, Mr. Obama won 77% of Whole Foods counties and 29% of Cracker Barrel Counties, a 48-point difference.
And with this divide between cities and rural areas, the suburbs, particularly ones in the middle between exurbs and inner-ring suburbs, are where politicians fight for votes.
The profiles of a suburban county outside Kansas City and a rural county in Missouri suggests that most people make conscious choices about where they want to live. In other words, everyone in America can live wherever they want and they make these choices based on culture and politics. A common illustration for this is the plight of high school and college age adults and fears of a rural “brain drain“: they can leave their small town for the big city where they see there is more excitement. To some degree, this is true: Americans are a mobile people yet it is a more complicated process than simply selecting a cultural milieu and parking there for the rest of their lives. On one hand, people can make much more finer-grained decisions than on a county by county basis (particularly in denser areas where there are plenty of communities to choose from) and on the other hand people are pushed and pulled by particular places through race and ethnicity, social networks, economic opportunities, and life changes. The article mentions cultural factors quite a bit but says little about race and ethnicity, a long-standing factor in where people live and evidenced today by continued residential segregation.
Just a note: the second author of this piece is Dante Chinni, also the co-author of Our Patchwork Nation. His analysis could be contrasted with sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s recentl book on small-town America.