Theses Bachelor's

Voting Against Everyone’s Interests: Interrogating the Politicization of Rural Whites as a Latent Expression of Historical White Supremacy

Kraus, Molly

As United States electoral politics experiences a critical realignment of rural white voters into the Republican party, the question of how partisan politics influence perceptions of rural whites is particularly pressing. Typical scholarship emphasizes investigating the behavior and attitudes of rural whites themselves. This thesis, instead, aims to understand what historical and demographic factors influence perceptions of rural whites. I take a three-pronged approach to studying these perceptions.

First, this thesis emphasizes a historical account of how elite whites in the United States have intentionally otherized rural whites in order to sharpen the superiority of whiteness, as a relation of power, over non-whiteness. Then, to better understand whether or not rural whites are still systematically regarded in a negative light, I conducted an implicit association test that compared bias toward rural whites with bias toward urban whites. Finally, I developed and deployed a survey to evaluate explicit resentment towards rural whites, and the relationship between that rural resentment and party identity, racial identity, educational attainment level, and Black resentment.

My historical analysis shows that elite whites have pervasively and persistently worked to frame non-elite, poor whites as an inferior class that has failed to achieve the material and moral expectations of whiteness qua privilege. The results of my two quantitative analyses, exploring implicit bias and explicit resentment, indicate that contempt for rural whites is an observable, distinct phenomenon. Both methods indicate that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to exhibit rural resentment, albeit only by a small margin. In the explicit resentment survey, the analysis indicates that as educational attainment increases, rural resentment is predicted to substantially increase. Moreover, as resentment towards Black people increases, the model predicts that respondents, particularly Republican respondents, are more likely to hold rural whites responsible for their own poverty but are less likely to view rural whites as morally contemptible. Ultimately, this research suggests that while rural whites are realigning to the Republican party, Republican views of rural whites have not realigned – at least not completely. The conclusion of the research examines why rural resentment uniquely matters among Republicans and Democrats, respectively, as well as why interrogating rural white resentment matters more broadly for deconstructing persistent logics of domination.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Phillips, Justin H.
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 2, 2022