The Heterogeneous Associations of Rural Consciousness and Political Preferences

14 June 2023, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Although rural Americans’ sense of place-based consciousness has been an influential explanation for their right-wing politics, recent studies have often found rural consciousness is weakly associated with Republican partisanship and conservatism. Analyzing the 2020 American National Election Study and reanalyzing three recent studies of rural consciousness, I show this incongruity is explained by heterogeneity in how rural consciousness is associated with political preferences. For politically engaged Americans, rural consciousness is associated with right-wing partisan-ideological identification and economic conservatism. For disengaged Americans, however, rural consciousness is associated with left-wing identification and economic liberalism. This heterogeneity emerges due to the downweighing of instrumental concerns among politically engaged citizens relative to symbolic, identity-based concerns. Thus, how rural consciousness is translated into political preferences is contingent on citizens’ relative weighting of competing instrumental and symbolic motivations, which push the rurally-conscious in opposite directions in terms of partisanship, ideological identification, and economic policy preferences.


Rural Politics
Political Engagement
Political Identity
Public Opinion


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