Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Heart of the Country

Rural Americans do a mediocre job of living up to the stereotypes city slickers have about them. So we can gather from a rare poll that focuses strictly on residents of rural counties. Conducted for the Center for Rural Strategies by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Greener and Hook, it found just 17 percent of rural adults saying anyone in their household earns income through farming, ranching or agriculture. Fewer still, 7 percent, get at least half their income from such toil. Nor do rural folk spend all their time either attending church or oiling their guns. While 64 percent said they go to church at least once or twice a month, fewer than half (46 percent) do so every week. Asked how many guns or rifles they own, 45 percent said “none.” Six percent have less than a high school diploma—fewer than the 10 percent who have post-graduate schooling. Twenty-five percent have some college, and 23 percent are graduates. Sixty-seven percent have Internet access at home, including 41 percent with broadband. The chart below shows how much time rural adults spend online, with the average working out to 5.1 hours a week. Among those age 18-29, the average is 8.3 hours.

When respondents were given a menu of terms and asked how well (if at all) each describes rural America, relatively few (27 percent) said “depressing” fits well or very well. Slightly more (32 percent) said “behind the times” is apt. On the positive end of the spectrum, 95 percent said “good place to raise a family” describes rural America well or very well, while many said the same about “traditional values” (80 percent), “close-knit communities” (76 percent), “good schools” (75 percent) and “strong work ethic” (75 percent). Markedly fewer said “prosperous” is a good fit (42 percent), and just 39 percent said the same of “increasing opportunity.”