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Rural Westerners May Be Changing Their Minds About The Government

Michael Oestriech
National Park Service

The Rural West Covid Project was conducted back in June and July, when cases of the novel coronavirus were spiking across the country.

Yale professor and author, Justin Farrell, was the survey's principal investigator. He said they were especially interested in how the pandemic may shift attitudes towards the government.

"What we found was pretty remarkable," he said. "Especially in an area like the rural West, which is known to be conservative, known to be self-reliant and proudly anti-federal in a lot of ways."

For instance, there was broad support for relief spending on healthcare, housing, infrastructure, small business, and direct payments to individuals. On the other hand, respondents wanted to see a cut in spending on oil and gas companies and large businesses.

Another potential shift the survey indicated was how rural Westerners feel about President Trump. In 2016, Trump won 75 percent of counties in the rural West. However, 43 percent of respondents approved of his handling of the pandemic, while 44 percent disapproved. The remaining respondents answered "neither."

Unemployment spiked for all people living in the rural West, with women and Latino/a residents seeing the largest increases in unemployment.

Farrell said there needs to be more research about the impacts of COVID-19 on the rural West.

"Much of the information that we have relies on national surveys or focuses on urban regions that have greater institutional resources, more people studying those areas," he said.The survey was funded by the National Science Foundation, and developed by researchers at Yale University, Utah University, and New York University. Offered in English or Spanish, and conducted by both phone and internet surveys, it included respondents from counties classified as non-metropolitan by the Office of Management and Budget.

More information on the survey results and methods can be found here.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.