News media and scholarly reporting frequently misrepresent or misunderstand rural America. Few examples illustrate this more than the wake of the 2016 election, when droves of largely nonrural reporters flocked to rural communities to find out what happened.

Although much has been written critiquing such drive-by journalism, narrow and reductive depictions of rural America persist. This storytelling contributes to growing mistrust of outside researchers and reporters, and the oft-described rural-urban divide erases rural diversities and unduly polarizes differences between cities and small towns.

With more local newsrooms closing, local perspectives on rural stories are told less often, and the most negative stories from nonlocal reporters rise to the top. Although two-thirds of 2016 Donald Trump voters were neither poor nor working class, and although small city and suburban voters played a greater role in Trump’s victory than rural voters, most national media still focus on rural voters and circulate tropes of rural Americans as largely white, uneducated, working-class farmers.

To improve the accuracy and relevance of rural reporting, journalists and researchers can eschew rural myths, represent the diversities of rural places, and focus on rural-specific experiences with issues common to all communities. Here we debunk three myths about rural America and provide recommendations for reporters and researchers engaging rural communities during the 2020 election cycle and beyond.

  • Myth: Rural America is the white, agricultural “heartland.”
    Fact: Rural America is increasingly diverse.
  • Myth: Poor, rural people live in “cultures of poverty.”
    Fact: Most chronic economic challenges in rural areas occur because of changing global economies.
  • Myth: “Rural” is a singular voting bloc.
    Fact: Rural voters are not a monolith.

Read the full article about rural America by Anne Junod, Clare Salerno, and Corianne Payton Scally at Urban Institute.