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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Rural Democracy Initiative has the strategy to build progressive majorities


Welcome to Team Tuesday!


Have you heard of the Rural Democracy Initiative?  I just learned about them. Where have they been all my life?  They are doing incredible and transformational work in rural areas.  And it doesn’t get more strategic than this.


Why does that matter?


In a Convergence article by RDI executive director Sarah Jaynes, she made a cogent case for why rural voters are critical for progressive and Democratic electoral and policy wins.


“Rural and small-city voters are key to winning statewide races, controlling [state and Federal] legislative chambers, and making progress on the big challenges facing our families and communities. For too long, we have watched these voters shift to the right. 

But sustained investment in year-round organizing, renewed focus on populist economic policies, better messaging to overcome perceived cultural divides, and locally rooted, working-class candidates are beginning to win over rural voters. These strategies have led to small gains across rural areas that can provide the margin of victory for Democrats.


Who are they?


Rural Democracy Initiative (founded in 2018) describes itself as the first funding collaborative building power toward a thriving democracy and shared prosperity across diverse communities in rural areas and small cities. As a funding collaborative, they bring together resources from leading philanthropic organizations and individual donors to implement a coordinated strategy.


What do they do?


Rural Democracy invests in over 125 groups, such as the estimable PA Stands Up, to work alongside hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas, small towns, and small cities to improve our lives and communities. They invest in civic infrastructure in small cities and towns to impact public opinion, elections, and redistricting processes.

They convened a number of stakeholders to develop the Rural Policy Action agenda, to lift up policies that invest in rural communities.  Unlike so many funders, they invest in organizing and the groups who focus on it.


[Note: If I had input into their practices, I would say they should put up an ad campaign in swing states right now, asking where all Federal candidates and officeholders stand on the Farm Bill and the Rural Policy Action agenda, and urging people to call in their support for the agenda.]


Their Election Results Dashboard shows election and demographic data to understand past election results and how rural voters shape state and national outcomes.


Perhaps most importantly, they are investing for the long term and building sustainable organizations that support rural people working to transform rural America — and therefore our national politics — for decades to come.




Jaynes says, correctly, “Following the 2020 [and 2016] elections, it became increasingly clear that progressives had lost the trust of many working-class voters across race. Rural voters are the most working class voters—70% non-college compared to 57% in urban areas.

The absence of a compelling economic agenda and vision for rural communities among Democrats is a key part of the reason they’ve lost many rural voters.


Closest to my heart among their many worthy projects, The Winning Jobs Narrative (WJN) and Toolkit, based in extensive research and copy testing, provides a blueprint for compelling messaging for rural audiences about jobs, work, and the economy.


A couple of brief examples of what they learned about rural voters’ attitudes and values.


Government: Voters aren’t inherently opposed to an active role for government when it comes to jobs and the economy. But there can be push-back about what government can actually  accomplish. And most people want their government to support them, not do for them.


Democrats are often seen as focusing more on poor people than on working people, by a wider margin than Republicans are seen as more focused on the wealthy. And Republicans have exploited that to position themselves as aligning with working-class values, despite pushing and embodying an agenda designed to hurt working people and families.


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