Roundup: Rural & Urban Agree on Populism

Rural/urban populist beliefs overlap • Updated hitchhiking to solve transportation woes? • Public Internet in Minnesota • How fracking took down an energy company • Unexploded whale • Jobs vs. growth in West Virginia

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We hear a lot about how urban and rural voters diverge on politics. But a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that residents of big cities and small communities share political common ground around populist issues.

Fifty nine percent of urban residents and 61% of rural residents agree that the widening economic gap between haves and have nots means “America is no longer a country where everyone has an opportunity to get ahead.” Only 48% of suburban residents agreed with that statement.

More than half (51% and 59% respectively) of urban and rural residents say they would vote for a candidate who says free-trade agreements hurt U.S. wages and jobs. Only 41% of suburban residents agree with that statement.

The common ground for big-city denizens and rural ones is tough economic conditions, writes the Journal’s Dante Chinni: 

The larger point in all these numbers is that populism, or economic unhappiness, has grown some roots in both Democratic and Republican base areas – overriding even the usual breakdown we usually see along urban/rural lines.

The challenge for both parties may be in what do to about it – how to secure their base voters in these areas without doing anything to upset suburbanites, who appear to be less uneasy about any winners and losers in the new economy, particularly where trade is concerned.

The Democrats have been pushing an increase in the minimum wage, which Republicans blocked in the Senate last week. And some Republicans say the party needs some kind of response or at least stance on the issue of income inequality.

None of this means there is a great coming together across urban and rural lines. There are still deep differences in urban and rural America. But these numbers suggest that a populist tide is growing in both places and Democrats and Republicans ignore it at their own peril.

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Hitching a ride into town was a reliable and common means of transportation for many rural folks a generation or two ago. Some urban areas are adapting the practice through technology-assisted ride-sharing services. A resident of northeast Kansas describes how the practice might also work in the communities outside the city of Lawrence. Though technically a metro area, Douglas County, Kansas, is far cry from the much larger urban areas like San Francisco and Austin, where ride-sharing has been popular.  “It’s a transportation system that’s built on our best resource – our human kindness,” writes Jennifer O’Brien in a piece on the Shareable website that was republished in the Christian Science Monitor.

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More than a dozen municipalities in Minnesota are entering the broadband game, either as a partner with or competitor to private Internet service providers. This could both save money for local governments and help take broadband to places private companies won’t go.

“Because there is no real competition, the existing providers do a really poor job, especially in rural areas,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “There’s basically two [solutions]: one is public ownership in the form of municipal networks or co-ops, the other is regulation. … I would argue right now that regulation is not really an option given the power of Comcast in D.C.”

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A story in The New Yorker draws a link between the rise of hydraulic fracking and the bankruptcy of one of America’s largest energy companies.

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One unfortunate blue whale is causing a stir online and in real life. The dead whale washed ashore last week in the tiny town of Trout River, Newfoundland, and has been on explosion watch (warning: link is sort of groddy) ever since.

The whale hasn’t exploded, and probably won’t, so the next question is what to do about the carcass.  Some want it removed, but others like B&B owner Doris Sheppard want to keep it around because it’s good for business. “Oh, I have been inundated with calls, people are coming. … We're full tonight, we're full tomorrow night, we're full the next night. People are coming and will continue to come. The whole world wants a piece of this action,” said Sheppard.

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“The State of My State” blog has a handy chart that tracks economic growth and unemployment in West Virginia. While growth has been up since 2009, steady jobs haven’t come with it. The site credits the natural gas boom, which wouldn’t necessarily create permanent jobs, with the growth.

 

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