Here’s the received wisdom: rural voters are the neglected, the ignored, the forgotten — but in Western democracies, they are fast becoming the kingmakers.
How did this happen?
It seems counterintuitive. Power resides at the centre. Kings, queens, presidents and press barons — they are urban, as are most people in post-industrial states.
Yet, even as the Democrats take the suburbs in the US mid-term elections — for ‘suburbs’ read ‘urban middle class’ — Republican gains in rural states cement their grip on the Senate.
It highlights a US electoral system with built-in rural bias. Democrats won the popular vote in six of the last seven US elections — yet two of those times a Republican took office.
In 1790, when the Senate was conceived, 95% of Americans were rural. Today, around 19% are, yet the Senate was conceived to offer equal representation to all states. The result? A rural vote is now worth much more than an urban one.
Get off my land
The British Brexit referendum also saw a stark split between urban and rural voting. London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff — diverse cities all voting strongly for Remain in an election that saw countryside and small town Britain vote 55% in favour of leaving the EU.
Country people are quick to complain of the too-powerful cities and their liberal elites. Yet recent trends suggest that in fact, the rural vote is dictating the political and perhaps cultural direction to the cities.
Try explaining that to the urban elites in emerging economies.