Rural America was once the hotbed of progressivism in the United States, embodied in the Farmer Labor movement that is still remembered fondly in many parts of the country.

The Democratic Party can speak profoundly to rural voters because its core principles of empowering working people, supporting local communities, and standing up to corporate special interests run deeply in that vein. Yet, Trump carried rural voters by 28 points. Among their top issues were jobs and opportunities for their children – issues Democrats should win. Yet Democrats have seen an 11 percent drop in support among rural voters. 

Post-election surveys show that rural voters feel isolated, ignored and disrespected. They believe that the Democratic Party is too focused on urban voters and has become a party for elites. We must bring rural voices into the conversation to connect progressive policy with local solutions that leave rural voters feeling empowered, rather than dismissed.  Just like every other issue the right wing uses to divide us, we cannot allow them to turn rural and urban communities against each other.  We must bring unity among all communities over shared concerns around economic fairness and opportunity.  

To gain ground in rural counties, we must take them seriously and invest the resources in directly engaging and messaging to these communities. These investments must happen over multiple cycles to see results.

It will take all of us – elected officials, activists, and rank-and-file Democrats – to give the rural voters the tools they need to succeed. Here is how we start.

ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY BASED ON EMPOWERMENT 

Engaging rural voters is essential to stem the tide of Electoral College gains made by Donald Trump. Getting rural voters engaged at all levels – from local party units, to running for office, to leadership in the DNC – is critical to the future success of the Democratic Party. 

The DNC must: 

  1. Organize in 3,143 counties across the country.
     
  2. Launch a nationwide organizing tour in rural counties that were won by Obama and lost by Clinton or won by local Democrats and lost by national Democrats. 
     
  3. Ensure rural voices are provided an expanded role in day to day DNC decision-making. 
     
  4. Build a database of rural elected officials who represent the Democratic Party and places where Democrats could win local seats.
     
  5. Develop a national Rural County Chairs Association to advise the DNC on policy, electoral opportunities and messaging.
     
  6. Set turnout goals to boost Democratic turnout in rural areas. 
     
  7. Recruit Democrats to run for co-op boards.

RESOURCES FOR SUCCESS

The Republican National Committee and the Koch Network have targeted rural voters as critical in their efforts to win nationwide. We saw the effect of this spending on Election Day. Our ability to win back Governorships, Senate seats and Legislative races is directly correlated to winning in rural America. 

The DNC must: 

  1. Invest in programs to engage rural voters and increase Democratic vote share.
     
  2. Provide frequent and accessible trainings on the state and local level to rural counties, candidates and campaign staff.
     
  3. Locate full-time staff based across the United States focused on rural voters and outreach.
     
  4. Research and refine rural messenger and communication outreach strategies. 
     
  5. Promote nationwide vote-by-mail for rural voters who can vote-by-mail but don’t automatically receive ballots.
     
  6. Build a national model of likelihood of service as a precinct chair for state and local parties to build their local leadership bench.
     
  7. Collaborate with local counties and state parties to develop a nationwide database of rural events for visibility and direct contact. 
     
  8. Initiate a county candidates recruitment program with trainings on how to recruit and prepare to run for local office to begin building a candidate bench.

Most importantly, the DNC will provide dedicated resources for matching grants for any state party that secures funding and develops an organizing plan for fellowships or staff in rural counties. 

MESSAGING THROUGH RURAL CHANNELS

We need to change the belief that rural voters have about the Democratic Party. We need to effectively communicate inclusion, respect and a sense of common opportunity. Our economic message and values are exactly what rural voters are asking for. In many places, we either have the wrong messenger or have just failed at delivering the message.

The DNC must: 

  1. Involve rural Democratic leaders in developing messaging for rural areas.
     
  2. Develop a database of all rural radio stations and newspapers and contact information.
     
  3. Develop, recruit, train and book surrogates for rural radio and TV.
     
  4. Create a nationwide letter to the editor outreach program for rural newspapers.
     
  5. Look for regular opportunities for Democratic surrogates on rural radio.
     
  6. Engage with co-op boards on messaging that moves voters. 
     
  7. Set a quarterly meet-up strategy in rural counties where voters gather at the house of a Democrat and connect with rural voters across the country engaging in conversations to boost rural turnout.
     
  8. Work with local, state and national elected officials on legislation that improves the conditions of rural Americans.