Rural Consciousness and Political Opinions in Southern Appalachia Report
There has been no shortage of discourse about the factors affecting voters during the 2016 election. Amidst the din, some have noted a distinction between rural and suburban and urban residents in their orientation toward politics generally and political candidates specifically. While many in the media came to this topic late – analyzing why voters in rural areas, and specifically rural Appalachia, supported Donald Trump’s candidacy at high rates only after Trump’s victory – students in Professor Crowder-Meyer’s “Parties and Interest Groups” course this fall grasped the potential for high levels of support for Trump much earlier. Through support from the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies, Professor Crowder-Meyer was able to redesign her “Parties and Interest Groups” course to include a unit with readings focused on understanding political opinions and rural consciousness, and a set of assignments analyzing the political opinions and behavior of rural Appalachian residents.
In analyzing the ways Appalachian residents see politics and politicians, students identified reasons (before the election) why appeals like those made by Trump during the 2016 campaigns were likely to be successful, and in analyzing voting behavior of Appalachian residents (post‐election), students identified clear distinctions in turnout and support from rural versus urban Appalachian voters that derive from the distinct cultural, social, demographic, and political profile of rural Appalachian residents. Students’ work in these assignments was shared fairly broadly – both with members of their class (through class presentations) and by presenting their work in written and video formats to other of Professor Crowder-Meyer’s fall classes. These readings and assignments also served to kindle an interest in Appalachia in my students, provoking student attendance at Collaborative events on campus (such as Max Fraser’s “Hillbilly Revanche” talk) and extensive discussion of rural consciousness and the opinions of rural Appalachian residents throughout the rest of the course (in discussing topics not often tied to discussions of Appalachia – like political party identification, interest group formation, and constituent outreach). Given the resonance of this unit Professor Crowder-Meyer plans to integrate discussion of rural consciousness and the effects of place on political opinion into another of her courses on Political Behavior.