Urban-Rural Differences in Non-Voting Political Behaviors

Jennifer Lin and Kristin Lunz Trujillo
Political Research Quarterly
Volume 76, Issue 2
February 11, 2023


Existing studies on the contemporary U.S. urban-rural divide have neglected its potential role in non-voting political participation. Theoretically, there are mixed expectations: for example, higher social capital in rural areas, alongside a generally older population, suggest rural areas should have greater political participation. Conversely, lower socioeconomic indicators and more physical distance barriers suggest the opposite. Using nationally stratified survey data from the 2018 CCES (N = 61,000) and 2020 CES (N = 60,000), we find that specific participation behaviors do not consistently vary across the urban-rural spectrum, controlling for demographic variables. The few consistently significant differences relate to the nature of location-based access. For instance, using 2020 and 2021 ACLED data, we find that an activity where non-rural residents participate more—protesting—occurs less often in rural areas, thus stymieing participation opportunities for rural and small-town residents. Alternatively, rural and small-town residents are consistently more likely to put up a sign, which may reflect a greater incidence of living in houses with yards compared to urban residents. Social media political participation behaviors do not yield urban-rural differences, further suggesting that once geographic access-related barriers are removed, participation rates are essentially similar across the urban-rural spectrum.

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