The Deep Divide Between Urban And Rural Voters

Mar 3, 2020
Originally published on March 3, 2020 10:59 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

North Carolina is one of the 14 states voting on this Super Tuesday. NPR sent a team to Charlotte as part of a special election project called Where Voters Are. This next story features some of the most powerful moments of the conversations that team had. In those words, Steve Inskeep and Sarah McCammon found a deep divide.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: This division is not quite the same as the red and blue partisan divide.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It's different from the gaps between races or incomes or generations. The truth is it's bigger than all those divisions, and it embraces all of them. It's the divide between the city and the surrounding countryside.

INSKEEP: In metro Charlotte, we met urban and rural voters on the same day. Now we've heard their differing views on this program in past days. Today, we hear what some think of each other.

MCCAMMON: I visited a predominantly black church in Charlotte. It was within sight of the big skyscrapers downtown. And there I met with local activists, and I told them that you, Steve, had been talking with mostly white suburban and rural voters, many of whom support President Trump.

What do you think of I guess your neighbors in a way who voted so differently from you?

WILLIE FLEMING: I can't say it in church.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: That's Willie Fleming. He's 63, African American, a longtime activist in Charlotte.

FLEMING: I think anybody that vote for Trump has to have the same school of thought that Trump has. And that's racism. That's - I just don't believe in him. I don't see how an evangelist preacher can stand up there and forgive Trump for everything he does.

MCCAMMON: What he's talking about there is the way many white evangelical leaders have supported the president even after he admitted to paying off a pornstar, even through his impeachment. We had this long conversation about politics in the state of the country, and Corine Mack, who's the local NAACP president, told me she feels like many white people just don't see their own racism.

CORINE MACK: What I've learned is this - that black people do not seem to have the same level of worth in this country. Our lives don't have worth in this country. And it's been that way since the beginning of time - since 1619, let's put it that way.

MCCAMMON: She's referring there to the year slavery started in the United States. Other voters described rural Trump supporters as low-information voters who don't understand how they rely on government programs like Social Security or farm subsidies. Collette Alston is president of the African American Caucus for the county Democratic Party.

COLLETTE ALSTON: I am going to say that a lot of people are - just aren't educated. They don't understand the system and the process. And at the end of the day, once that's understood, I don't think there would have been a lot of people that would have voted for him. But a lot of people are voting on emotion and fear and whatever.

MCCAMMON: So these voters feel marginalized by some of their white suburban and rural neighbors in the Charlotte area. And they also feel like some of those neighbors just aren't seeing the big picture.

INSKEEP: Sarah, your voters were not wrong there to talk about people voting on fear because some people do fear cities. At the same day that you were in central Charlotte, I was at the far edge of the metro and went to a cafe in this small town called Kings Mountain and had breakfast in the corner with Tracy Stewart, his mom, Linda Stewart, and his dad Mac Stewart.

Well, how would you describe this community? What's it like, if somebody has never been here? What would you say?

TRACY STEWART: I would say it's probably about 80% conservative, a lot of churches in this community, a lot of religious affiliation. It's a close-knit community.

INSKEEP: What concerns do you have about things in this community, if any, things that aren't going so well?

LINDA STEWART: Maybe some of the crime from the Charlotte area filtering. Yeah.

T STEWART: Yeah. The gangs are starting to filter in.

L STEWART: Maybe some liberal views.

INSKEEP: They had a lot of thoughts about crime.

T STEWART: I try to stay away from Charlotte. The crime is in Charlotte and we - we're all concealed carry holders, you know. Of course, I'm carrying right now. But...

INSKEEP: What kind of weapon do you carry?

T STEWART: I carry a Glock. It's a 27 .40 caliber.

INSKEEP: OK, .40 caliber.

T STEWART: Forty caliber.

INSKEEP: You've never had to use it.

T STEWART: I've never had to use it. I've never had to pull it, so - and I hope to God I never have to, but...

INSKEEP: Although when you talk about crime in Charlotte, I got in last night and went walking around the downtown and it's beautiful.

L STEWART: You're brave.

INSKEEP: Well, it's beautiful, ma'am. And I didn't feel...

L STEWART: I hope you carried.

INSKEEP: No I didn't.

T STEWART: The buildings are gorgeous over there. And I - you know, I used to work in Charlotte so - and I just - I never felt really safe being over there.

INSKEEP: OK. These snatches of conversation reflect views that we hear a lot around the country. Some people view cities as dangerous. The truth is that urban crime is at relatively low historic levels.

MCCAMMON: But there is crime. Cities can seem unwelcoming and conservative media play up issues, like homelessness. And it's easy to see how that translates into politics. Many people want firearms for personal protection.

INSKEEP: You can also see sources of economic resentment. People of color in cities know that they face historic disadvantages.

MCCAMMON: People who are white, often in rural areas, don't feel that prosperous and think their taxes benefit people in the city.

INSKEEP: Now, in our travels, we did find one person who knew both places - Shelley Proffitt (ph), who's a farmer in Kings Mountain. We rode along one morning as she tossed hay out of a pickup truck to feed cattle.

SHELLEY PROFFITT: OK, hold up.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS MOOING)

INSKEEP: But this farmer grew up in Charlotte. She knows from cities, and she has a wish.

PROFFITT: If everybody in Kings Mountain would go up there and spend a week in Charlotte and go out to dinner and see that you can walk down the street and not be shot. You can go out to eat and not pay a hundred dollars for a meal, go just meet everyday man. Like, it's - you can survive in that world and vice versa and see them. Like, I think until they are exposed to someone else of a different lifestyle than them, they really can't - outside of TV - they can't really get their head around it. And it's the same thing with Charlotte folks. Like, come out. This is a good life, too. And it's a respectable life. So the only way to fix it is to experience it.

INSKEEP: Shelley Proffitt's life illustrates the way that urban and rural areas depend on each other. Her cattle are slaughtered and sold as beef in a Charlotte farmer's market. Without that farm, city people would have less to eat.

MCCAMMON: And Charlotte is an engine of economic growth that radiates out to the countryside and generates a lot of tax revenue. Without Charlotte, the rural areas would be a lot less prosperous.

INSKEEP: They are all part of one metro area and part of one country, though that may not prevent those areas from voting very differently on this Super Tuesday and again this November.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON WIRTZ'S "COUNTRY")

MARTIN: Our MORNING EDITION co-host Steve Inskeep and NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon talking about the rural-urban divide this election year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.