• Description

This issue brief uses cumulative data from the nationally representative, General Social Survey (1972-2004) (Davis & Smith 2004), to explore how rural Americans differ from their urban and suburban peers on religious involvement and in their attitudes toward politically contested moral issues, namely, abortion and same-sex relations. The data indicate that rural Americans are slightly more religious than their metropolitan neighbors as indicated by weekly church attendance and having had a born-again experience. Rural Americans, however, do not comprise a homogeneous group. There are significant regional differences, with rural Southerners much more likely than their rural counterparts in Eastern, Midwestern, and Western parts of the country to be highly religious. And while rural Americans are more likely to oppose abortion and same-sex relations than their non-rural neighbors, there is also evidence of variation in their attitudes toward these issues. Like Americans as a whole, rural Americans vary their opinion on abortion depending on the specific circumstances. Generation also matters, and this is especially evident in the fact that younger individuals are more tolerant of same-sex relations than their parents and grandparents. It is also noteworthy that religiosity trumps rural/non-rural location when it comes to social conservatism. Highly religious rural and non-rural Americans alike are much more likely to oppose abortion and same-sex relations than their less religious counterparts. Acknowledging and responding to these important nuances in the cultural values of rural Americans may improve the ability of both Democrats and Republicans to develop connections throughout rural America. In sum, it would bea mistake to categorize rural Americans as a single voting bloc. Rural America is diverse, and behavior, attitudes and beliefs vary by region.