In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, we learned about how political pollsters like to pigeon-hole certain blocs of voters to understand what makes them tick. To the dismay of pollsters, media outlets and politicians, most rural folks can't really be labeled. Like most of America, we are a mixed bag and bring different values to the table, depending on past experiences, careers, families and geographic region.
I've heard rural voters cast as "values voters." In that context, the pollsters were thinking specifically about social and faith-based issues or "values." Of course, rural citizens have a long and standing tradition of being faith-filled folks who stand up on certain social and faith issues consistently.
However, there are other "values" that rural voters often take a stand on that might be more telling when it comes to elections, policy development and governing. In that way, I guess as rural citizens, we are truly values voters. Here are a few of the values I'm thinking about:
Self-reliance. Farmers and ranchers and rural folks take liberty seriously. It could be said that rural folks often prefer not asking for anyone's help. It doesn't take an act of Congress to foster creativity and innovation on the farm. Those things usually spring forth out of necessity.
Patriotism. We all know someone in our family who died in the armed forces to help keep us free, so our veterans are revered. We typically love the flag, stand for the national anthem and appreciate our soldiers in uniform. The American flag waves not only from flagpoles, but also from combines and tractors.
Honesty and integrity. In a society where no one trusts anyone, we still make neighborly business agreements with a handshake over a cup of coffee. In a small town, if you don't have integrity with your friends and neighbors, you don't have much.
Helping each other. While rural citizens like to keep to their own and mind their own business, when the chips are down in the face of disaster, sickness and extreme challenges, we all know that we can count on our friends, family and neighbors for help when we need it most. It goes back to that self-reliance of taking care of the folks around us.
Handling things locally. If there is a challenge, concern or problem, rural citizens look mostly to local solutions. We prefer to have the decision-making as close to local as we can. We believe that customized local solutions are best formulated locally with a local sensibility. Local churches, communities, schools, businesses and agencies are held in esteem.
Family first. Our families most likely come first. I've heard many farmers and ranchers say that their top priorities in life are faith, family and farm, in that order. In Nebraska, the Huskers might come in at a close fourth place.
Keeping taxes and regulations to a minimum. Low taxes and less intrusion keep money in the pockets of farmers and ranchers and small businesses that keep small towns alive and breathe life into rural economies. Most rural folks believe that they know best how to spend their own hard-earned money.
Efficiency. Efficiency is not only strived for, but also considered absolutely necessary on the farm. When tough times come along, farmers tighten their financial belts.
Grass-roots environmentalism. Farmers and ranchers are the most reliable stewards of the land. Because most farms are family owned and operated, farmers live where they work. The environment is of the utmost concern for themselves and for future generations in the family.
I'm not sure how these values translate into politics, legislation and polling, but after the last election cycle, you can bet pollsters and legislators alike will spend some time reflecting on that question.