What Works in Rural America
Working with over 100 groups around the country, we are actively learning about and testing rural civic engagement tactics and strategy. Here's what works in rural America.
Treat all targeted rural voters as persuasion audiences
- In many battleground states, moving 3% of rural votes is enough to change statewide outcomes.
- Rural voters are the swingiest voting demographic — moving 8% or more, in both directions, over the past decade. Rural young people are highly undecided, and swung over 18% in 2018.
- Many rural BIPOC audiences are rarely contacted, and are ripe for persuasion and mobilization.
- Rural people of color and young people face strong barriers to participation and need a specific, personal reason to believe progressive policies or candidates will actually do something to change the issues and conditions they care most about. Do not treat them simply as “base mobilization” targets.
Show up and pay attention
- Progressive leaders, campaigns, and groups need to show up and deliver on rural issues.
- 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, quality jobs.
- Listen to local people, develop local leaders — don’t parachute in staff and consultants.
- Invest more in rural politics and groups — there is an extremely high return on investment.
Recruit, support and run high quality candidates for local office whenever possible.
- Many local races are non-partisan and avoid the challenges Democrats have in rural areas.
- Rural voters see more personal impact from local offices.
- Local candidates engage their communities, and the effects trickle up the ballot.
Elevate local messengers
- Real people from the community are the best spokespeople.
- Diversity is important. High school kids and young people are great messengers.
- Use their own words, and plain talk. Less produced content works better.
Listen more than talk
- Deep canvassing is a very powerful, labor-intensive but scalable persuasion tool.
- Relational organizing — using peer to peer networks for mobilization and persuasion, especially through platforms like Empower and Outvote — is also labor intensive but can be highly cost effective.
Use smart narratives
- There are a LOT of progressive policies that are very popular. Talk about those as much as we can — using language and framing that is compelling to local audiences. Also push on more challenging topics like racial justice and immigration — they are on people’s minds.
- Use tested narrative frameworks that work, including
- Rural working class-specific messaging from the Winning Jobs Narrative can elevate the personal impacts of Biden’s economic agenda, especially jobs, small business and family supports.
- Humor is very persuasive.
- Elevate working people, small business owners, family farmers. Use those words.
Use all the rural / small town media outlets to counter disinformation and get our message out
- Advertising in local outlets is often very inexpensive, and they are hungry for content.
- Use rural radio, local papers, agricultural papers, yard signs and billboards to increase visibility. Rural progressives feel very isolated and need to see other supporters and gain community.
- Local earned media coverage, amplified on Facebook, is most effective.