Pay attention to impact of Ky.’s political, urban-rural divides

Heather A. Johnson
Heather A. Johnson

Anyone who has lived in Kentucky a while is aware of the rivalry between University of Kentucky and University of Louisville fans. The decades-long rift splits the western and eastern portions of the state.

Less attention is given, however, to the deep divide among urban and rural areas of Kentucky over political and social issues.

During the 2016 presidential election, those differences came to a head, producing a tidal wave of heated debates. Abortion, health care, immigration, the economy, gender identity, religious liberty and a host of other hot-button issues forced both parties to draw lines in the sand. Where people stood on these issues was no longer a secret among friends. The floodgates opened.

People watched the news and debates in unprecedented numbers and were on their phones in droves scrolling through political memes, reposting scathing articles and enlisting a call to arms. Full-scale Facebook and Twitter wars ensued.

When the election was over and the dust settled, it was clear that Jefferson County (home to Louisville, the largest city) and Fayette County (home to the second-largest city, Lexington) were a world apart from the rest of the state in election results.

These two major metropolitan areas voted majority Democratic in the 2016 election. The rest of the state’s 120 counties voted majority Republican. How could it be that Kentucky’s two largest metropolitan areas are more liberal and the rest of the state is more conservative?

An article in The Atlantic entitled “Red State, Blue State: How the Urban-Rural Divide is Splitting America” provides an interesting theory. “People don’t make cities liberal, cities make people liberal,” writer Josh Kron said.

Having grown up in or near a large metropolitan area for the first 30 years of my life, I can see how that could be the case. I spent a portion of my youth and all of my college years in a city. I went to public schools and attended a public university. Then I got married and moved to an even larger city.

In the city, it was common for people to consider a baby “a collection of tissue” unless it was a baby you wanted to keep. After living in a more rural setting the last 15 years, I can tell you that is not the case here. Pregnancy centers are more common than abortion clinics.

After moving out of the city, I discovered that family and faith are often the cornerstones of rural areas. Churches far outweigh the number of clubs and bars.

In small towns, a servant attitude is also prevalent. Community-service projects are more common than protests, riots and marches.

In a city, if you protest or riot you may not see another person you know, which could reduce the chances of guilt about doing something hurtful or illegal. In a small town, there’s a good chance that if you damage a business, it’s run by someone you know, or a friend of a friend.

In a more rural area, if you yell obscenities during a protest, it could easily be to a family member of one of your children’s classmates. Those kinds of things make you think twice about how you address problems and frustrations.

This is not aimed at making city dwellers seem selfish and morally corrupt. Character flaws are not confined to city limits. The intention is to remind Kentucky counties that house large cities like Lexington and Louisville that there are more than 100 other counties in this state full of people who live, believe and vote differently than urban residents.

What is it about the city that shapes who you are, what you believe and what matters most to you? And what is it about rural areas that shapes who we are and what matters to us?

Heather A. Johnson, a Mount Sterling homemaker, can be reached at heatherlexherald@yahoo.com.