What Works in Rural America

Working with more than 125 groups across the diverse regions of our country, we are actively learning about and testing rural civic engagement tactics and strategy.

two children with a sign that says "Public Schools Unite Us"
Wisconsin Public Education Network

Lessons from Our Network

Guidelines for effective messaging, engagement, and communications

Created by:
Rural Democracy Initiative

January 2022

Treat All Targeted Rural Voters as Persuasion Audiences

Moving 3% of rural votes is enough to change statewide outcomes in many battleground states. Rural voters are the swingiest voting demographic — moving 8% or more, in both directions, over the past decade. Rural young people are highly undecided, swung over 18% in 2018, and when they mobilize, it can make a difference on issues statewide.

Rural people of color and young people face substantial barriers to participation and need a specific, personal reason to believe candidates will actually do something to change the issues and conditions they care about most. But, many small-town and rural Black, Indigenous, and people of color audiences are rarely contacted. They have great potential for issue engagement and mobilization but don’t treat them as simply “base mobilization” targets.

Show Up and Pay Attention

  • Leaders, efforts, and groups looking to create progress in these communities need to show up and deliver on rural issues, including the new federal funding.
  • Pay attention to what local people are asking for: broadband, keeping hospitals and grocery stores open, access to capital for farmers and small businesses, affordable housing, and quality jobs.
  • Listen to local people and develop local leaders from within the community — don’t parachute in staff or consultants who can’t speak from shared experience.
  • Invest more in rural politics and groups — there is an extremely high return on investment.
Land Stewardship Project
West Virginia Can’t Wait

Recruit, support, and run high-quality candidates for local office whenever possible

  • Many local races are non-partisan and avoid the challenges of party affiliation.
  • Rural voters see more personal impact from local offices.
  • Local candidates are the most effective at engaging their local communities to participate as voters, and the effects trickle up the ballot.
The Rural Democracy Initiative has been an amazing learning community, giving funders a window into what’s most effective in rural America. Their insight includes cutting-edge rural grassroots tactics, new narrative strategies and media platforms, and original research that is helping to redefine how we think about rural voters.
Brandon BoswellAmerican Federation of Teachers

Elevate trusted local messengers

Listen more than speak

Smart narratives work 

Utilize rural and small-town media outlets to counter disinformation and amplify the truth

Your generous donation supports Rural Democracy to create tools and resources to help continue the momentum for policies that benefit rural communities.