Race and White Rural Consciousness
By Matthew D. Nelsen, University of Chicago and Christopher D. Petsko, Duke University
The concept of rural consciousness has gained a significant amount of traction over the past several years, as evidenced by hundreds of citations and its inclusion within the most recent pilot of the ANES. However, many have questioned whether rural consciousness is appreciably different from racial prejudice. We assessed this issue by distributing a survey study to Wisconsinites living in rural and urban communities, and by examining the relationships between rural consciousness, racial resentment, and political attitudes in the ANES 2019 Pilot Study. The survey study revealed that participants living in rural parts of Wisconsin—unlike those living in urban parts—tended to think of city dwellers as possessing more negative attributes. In addition, the survey study revealed that rural participants thought of Milwaukeeans, specifically, as possessing stereotypically Black attributes. Moreover, this tendency was starker among those who scored higher on a measure of rural consciousness, suggesting that rural consciousness is related to racial stereotyping. Finally, in an analysis of the ANES 2019 Pilot Study, we found that rural consciousness correlated with racial resentment, and that controlling for racial resentment dramatically reduced the extent to which rural consciousness could predict political preferences (e.g., approval for Donald Trump). Thus, while white rural consciousness may not be reducible to racism, racism certainly plays a central role.