By Benjamin Wolf, Contributing Editor
When looking at the 2020 electoral map of Pennsylvania, a state that Biden carried by 80,000 votes, we see a snapshot of our current political moment. Of the state’s 67 counties, only 12 voted in favor of Joe Biden. Included in those counties were the heavily populated cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, along with their surrounding suburbs. The remaining 55 counties, mostly rural, went in favor of Donald Trump. Other states saw similar results in 2020, and many of the rural and urban counties throughout the country voted in similar fashion to 2016. The political divide of urban and rural is increasing nationwide, and Pennsylvania is no exception.
In reviewing census data for each county in Pennsylvania, we were able to identify several stark differences that separated the rural counties for Trump and urban counties for Biden. The average median age of counties favoring Donald Trump was 44 years old, six years older than the median of counties favoring Biden, whose residents averaged an age of 39. Trump counties also saw their populations decreasing at an average rate of -3.16 while Biden counties saw their rate increasing at 2.04 year over year from 2010-2019.In terms of racial demographics, counties favoring Trump tended to be much more homogenous. On average, the populations of counties favoring Trump were roughly 91% white compared to Biden’s 77%. Trump counties also had over 50% of residents self-categorizing as male compared to 49.02% for Biden counties.
Another area where differences were evident was educational attainment. Trump rural counties, on average, had lower high school graduation rates and were far less likely to hold a college degree than Biden urban counties, with 20% less residents earning bachelor’s or post-graduate degrees. Trump counties were also far more likely to only speak one language (predominantly English), while Biden counties were more likely to speak one or more languages other than English. This difference in educational attainment may play some part in the difference in each county’s median income, as Biden counties averaged approximately $15,000 per household more than Trump counties.
Although there is much that divides us, including our geographic locations, Americans see eye-to-eye on many issues. A Pew Research study on the political views of rural, suburban, and urban Americans found that, across all community types, people saw issues such as drug addiction, affordable housing, access to jobs, public infrastructure, and poverty as major problems. The issue of poverty stands out due to how it affects several of the other key issue areas, and is especially important when we consider that 2020 saw the largest single year increase in poverty rates in American history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Couple this with the fact that wages for most Americans, outside of the top 1% of earners, have barely grown, and in some cases decreased, over the past two decades.
Whether we come from dense metropolises or small towns; Americans are struggling. By recognizing our collective struggles and pushing for tangible changes to address them, we may begin to take steps towards empathizing with one another and, eventually, reconciling our differences.
If you are interested in bridging the divides in your own community, learning more about national organizations like Urban Rural Action is a great way to start. Urban Rural Action works by bringing community members together from both urban and rural areas, and then getting them to communicate and collaborate together to implement projects that offer mutual benefits to each group. A core component to their program is to make sure community members understand the merits of having difficult conversations with people from different social and political backgrounds.
For information on how everyday citizens in Pennsylvania are working together to solve local problems in a post-election world, we recommend this article from one of our contributors on The Starvos Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia Program at University of Pennsylvania.