The Rural Factor in the New Republican Majority in the U.S. House of Representatives

Last Updated: November 26, 2010

This article appeared in the November 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

In the 2010 mid-term elections rural voters played a heavy role in turning the majority party in the House of Representatives from Democratic to Republican.

In all, 63 congressional districts held by Democrats moved to the Republican column. Three districts went the other way. The Republican net gain, as of this writing (one seat still undecided) is 63.

Of those 63 Republican turnover districts, 31 are among the 92 congressional districts in which at least 40% of the population lives in rural areas. So nearly half the turnover districts are among the one-fifth of the House districts that are demographically most rural. (Note: If you move the cutoff point down to 30% rural, you get 139 congressional districts, or about one-third of the House, and 37 of those districts turned over from Democratic to Republican representation.)

So called “Blue Dog” Democrats were particularly big losers in this election. These are moderate to conservative Democrats who focus especially on fiscal issues. Before the election, there were 50 of them. Five did not seek re-election and 23 lost to a Republican. Of these 28 Blue Dog turnover seats, 18 are in districts where 40% or more of the population is rural; only 10 are in non-rural districts.

The “Tea Party” was a factor with a candidate running in 27 of the 63 turnover districts. But it was no more active in rural (13 of 31) than in non-rural districts (14 of 32). In non-rural turnover districts, the Tea Party candidate was only a little less likely to oppose a Blue Dog Democrat than another Democrat (4 of ten Blue Dogs versus 10 of 22 other Democrats. But in rural turnover districts, the Tea Party was far less likely to challenge a Blue Dog (5 of 18) than a non-Blue Dog (8 of 13). Contrary to many pundits, the Tea Party is not a particularly rural phenomenon.

The most revealing of the data about the rural factor in the Republican turnover victory in the House, however, is this: of the 66 turnover districts, 41 are among the 215 House districts (about half) with the lowest median income. Of those 41 lower income turnover districts, 28 have more than 40% of the population living in rural communities.

Hard times are very hard in many rural districts, and rural districts voted the way they did in 2008 — for hope and change. But this year that vote was not for Democrats.

Read more from the November 2010 Rural Policy Matters.