DemocracyGerrymandering

Corroding Democracy and the Roe Rollback: How Geographic Disparities in Representation Shape US Policy Outcomes

01.23.2023
It feels as if U.S. democracy is on shaky ground. Despite wins for many defenders of democracy in the 2022 midterm elections, many election deniers still won elections. Polls show eroding public faith in the Supreme Court, a core democratic institution, especially after the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. On many issues, and particularly on abortion rights, it seems as if national public policy makers are completely out of step with public opinion. But what explains this growing mismatch?

Beyond differences in voting behavior related to ideology, religion, education, and identity, the answer is also rooted in the partisan geography of where voters live. The geographic distribution of political power is an important, and often ignored, factor shaping US politics. Due to how how our electoral system is structured, rural voters have proportionally more power than urban voters in national elections. Our research finds that rural Americans’ views diverge from the views of the rest of the general public in several ways. For example, they are less likely than Americans living in urban areas to think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. They also tend to be whiter and more conservative than other voters. This creates a situation where a minority of the population has an outsized impact on electing the politicians who write policies that affect the rights of all US citizens, such as abortion rights, which do not reflect the will of the majority.

In this Research Brief, we discuss the ways in which rural votes have a disproportionate impact on U.S. elections, detail the ways in which rural Americans differ from Americans living in more urban areas, discuss the implications for democracy, and consider what can be done.