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Rural resentment of urban and suburban areas has existed for a long time, but the election of 2016 was the first instance in which a presidential candidate exploited it well enough to make it a major deciding factor, political scientist Joe Heim says in assessing Donald Trump’s victory.

Joe Heim new mug


The increasingly negative polarization of the country will have long-term implications, Heim told an SRO crowd of more than 150 people Wednesday at the Interfaith Leaders’ Coalition’s Community Conversations program at English Lutheran Church in La Crosse.

“If you play on resentment, I don’t think that is very good for the country, long-term,” he said.

Rural residents’ resentment “has been building for many, many years,” said Heim, who is public administration professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker “recognized the value of rural resentment” first, said Heim, who referred to UW-Madison professor Katherine Cramer’s book, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker” as providing a good analysis of the electoral atmosphere.

Heim confessed to an initial skepticism about Cramer’s technique of meeting regularly and repeatedly with “old white guys” in rural areas to develop her theories because he relies more on polls.

“I was wrong,” he said.

Even though the rural sector doesn’t constitute the majority in a country with so many people concentrated on the East and West coasts and in urban areas, “a significant minority was awakened by Trump and Walker,” Heim said.

They moved the needle enough to give Trump an Electoral College victory even though Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton beat him by about 3 million popular votes, he said.

The rural-urban-suburban enmity was apparent in Trump’s win over Clinton in several respects, Heim said, with factors including:

  • Distrust of American institutions, including government agencies such as the federal Justice Department and FBI, both of which Trump has undercut with unbridled criticism. “I do not think this is healthy,” Heim said.
  • Distrust of Washington, which Trump nurtured with his “drain-the-swamp” mantra.
  • A slow and uneven economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09.
  • “Clinton thought the election would fall into her hands because, by God, nobody would vote for that guy,” he said, resulting in missteps such as her not coming to Wisconsin because she thought she had a lock on the Badger State.
  • Trump exploited the rural angst, which Heim said could be “political intuition or luck, but in Donald Trump’s case, I’m not sure which it was.”

Contributing to the acrimony from rural areas were feelings that nobody cares about rural decay; a sense that teachers, college professors and minorities in urban and suburban areas receive preferential treatment; political elites look down on rural residents; undeserving people receive welfare benefits and racial resentment, he said.

White and nonwhite voters even in rural areas clearly took sides in the presidential election, Heim said, noting that rural whites generally voted for Trump, while rural nonwhites supported Clinton.

The traditional blue-red rivalry has devolved into increasing polarity and political incivility, demonization and vilification of opposing views, he said.

Walker has honed his catering to rural interests to the extent that he has an advantage in seeking to become only the second Wisconsin governor elected to three terms — with the only other one being fellow Republican Tommy Thompson, he said.

For example, “Walker is very much opposed to a gas tax increase,” a position that gains favor in rural areas where people drive a lot, Heim said.

Although there is no way to determine exactly how much influence Russian meddling might have affected the presidential election outcome, Russians proved adept at tapping into rural resentment and definitely had some effect, Heim said.

Heim displayed a map showing that at least 20 Wisconsin counties shifted voting allegiances from Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to Trump in 2016, adding, “Southwest Wisconsin counties are fertile for shifting.”

Part of the reason Obama voters switched was because Obama fell short of expectations, Heim said.

“He’ll go down as one of our better presidents, but he didn’t accomplish as much as he had hoped,” he said, adding that it is up to the individual to determine whether the blame lies at the feet of Republicans who obstructed his agenda or his own track record.

Then there is the issue of whether people voted for Trump and his agenda or just against Clinton, he said, with the Wisconsin split seeming to be half and half, he said.

The looming question is whether the country’s apparent shift toward embracing the negative is permanent or temporary, he said.

“So far, Trump’s base is sticking with him,” he said.

Asked how 45 maintains almost unwavering support among evangelical Christians despite the furor surrounding sexual allegations and his demeaning attitudes toward so many, Heim said, “Evangelical (views) seem to be less religion dominated than you might think.”

Abortion seems to be the main underpinning of evangelical support for Trump, even though “presidents don’t have any control over abortion,” he said.

“I would like to know” what motivates evangelicals’ fervor in backing Trump, he said.

“They seem to forgive a lot of things Donald Trump does that doesn’t seem like they are particularly forgivable,” Heim said.

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(22) comments


Rural people tend to be more church going and use the church as their social safety net. Accepting help through the church is more acceptable than from a bureaucrat. Rural and Evangelicals are sticking with Trump because they understand the arcane principle of remorse, penance and redemption. Trump has admitted his personal life has not been exemplary. His penance is to accept the burden of taking one of the most thankless jobs, the presidency. The redemption of his immortal soul will come from the restoration to the common person the 3 key promises of the founders, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through the successful access to harvesting the fruits of their labor through honest enterprise. Socialism does well in redistributing misery equally to the masses and riches to the oligarchs! Trumps popularity is not any more complicated than he returns real hope to people. Obama's promised hope was the mirage presented by the punishment of the successful with FREE new kitchens, phones, gas in their cars and cash from Obama's stash.
You go to the coasts they exhibit the principle if it feels good do it and if there are negative consequences, we can slide you into a gov't program administered by a bureaucrat whose objective is not solve the problem, but to increase the rolls of the afflicted to increase their budget and staff.


Helms comments are typical of the academic elites on our campuses. They are insulated from the real world surrounded by an echo chamber of like thinking professors, especially in the liberal arts area. During the last election cycle I had the opportunity to discuss the political scene with members of the UWL faculty, if you heard it on CNN you knew their views. They had no cognizant of how the average American stood on immigration, gay rights race or most other topics Trump stood for. So they like Hillary could not admit they were wrong but there must be something wrong with the Trump supporters.


Trumpf is a bully and he's rich. This a very dangerous combination. Nevertheless he"s admired by a lot of old white guys who want to be like him. E.g. most of the commenters here.

Buggs Raplin

The greatest failure in American political history. Hillary had the propaganda media in her corner, and still lost. Why? Because even enough Democrats wouldn't vote for her. God, how I loved it when the propaganda media whores lamented Hillary's loss in the early morning hours of 11/9/16. The propaganda media emasculated, their 'balls' cut off by the people. Oh my God, how I loved it.

Dave from Wisc

Hillary spent twice as much money as Trump. Had almost all of American media supporting her. Had late night entertainment (sic) media supporting her. All of Hollywood. All of the higher educational-industrial complex promoting her.

Yet she still had to cheat to beat a geriatric commie. Then she faced the worst "Republican" candidate ever, one who didn't even have the support of past Republican presidents, and still lost. But yeah, go ahead and blame the Russians, or Facebook or whoever it is today who think cause the Democrats to lose in November 2016.

Dave from Wisc

I hated Trump, but voted for him anyway. Why? Because Hillary would be worse. One big thing is the judges. Hillary pledged to put in fascist judges in all levels of the federal court system. Judges who would pull out victim chart and base their decisions on which of the two people/groups standing before the bench checked off the most victim boxes.
And there is things like forcing 14 year old girls to undress in locker rooms in front of drag queens. Or hauling off 72 year old great grandmother bakers to gulags because they declined a contract to work at a homosexual wedding.


I don't agree with Heim that this is a rural issue. During the campaign season in 2016, we had Trump signs in our city yard, and we had work being done in our house. The contractors would tell us that they liked our signs. They weren't rural. I would tend to believe that Trump appealed to more than just farmers.

Dave from Wisc

In the fall of 2016, I saw many many Trump and Ron Johnson signs in front of businesses in western Wisconsin. Especially industrial ones. (example, one that make cement culverts). I think much of the Trump and Johnson and Walker's support by businesses isn't what those guys will do in office, its what they won't do. They won't go on an anti-business crusade like many Democrat would.


The poor misbegotten souls known affectionately as : Trumpers-Humpers, were somewhere out in the country along the rural route, were sadly "left behind.",
so they voted for Trump "cos he tells it like it is and he hates Muslims.
Now they"re getting it from behind, in a big,big,kinda way.
That don"t sit well with some folks, especially since the money they thought they were getting going to the %.
Trump ain"t exactly the kinda dude you want to trust.
You"d think they"d know it by now.


Hey Redwall. David Dennison sure is a morally upstanding man isn't he?? How do you Republicans defend this guy??


Not defending him.
Not a republican.
Not a fan of biased and tainted journalism.


What a silly, one dimensional analysis by the Prof. The democrats pander to multiple demographics, to the detriment of the Country...they are masters of marketing to aggrieved groups. After Obama, race relations are worse than in decades; that serves a purpose in favor of the Dems.

Trump won rural votes. He also won the votes of married women. So what? That's the politics of resentment?

I love the statement that the presentation was to an SRO (standing room only) crowd of 150. First of all, there is no-one at the Tribune who can count past 20 (fingers and toes) so I question the attendance figure. Secondly, maybe next time have the meeting in a place other than a the tiny basement of a liberal congregation.

Did the Prof mention the loss of Dem voting enthusiasm due to Hillary and the DNC defrauding Old Bernie of the nomination? Of course not.


It wasn't a basement, sir, and it wasn't a tiny room. You should get out of your basement more often.


President Trump is a bigot and a racist not to mention how he views women in a negative fashion. What does that say about his supporters?? Wake up America!! Chump is going to fire Mueller and people better take it to the streets.


2:00 PM Thursday, Cameron Park, be there.

A Veteran

Just another liberal trying to blame somebody else for hillarbilly losing,and the left having a message people no longer believe.---Pitiful!!!!


Why is it Trump gets a pass from all you hard core ignorant conservative types. I mean look at Stormy, not one of you right sing nuts feel sorry for her, don't even mention her. And now there is a play boy model that is suing the president so she can come out and talk about her rondevous with Trump. And still not one wing nut like Veteran ever says a word about it. Its all about Hillary and Obama. they just can't get past them and move on to the present time. Being stuck in your hate filled past must be a pain, but that is the choice you make every day.

A Veteran

kingman---I see you are braying like a hate filled donkey today,but stil hung up on your perverted liking of an adult film star.==Pathetic and sad!!!!! The present time is Trump is president and Hillary and possibly Obama are headed for jail!!!


oh really Veteran, headed for jail you say! Tell me who is doing the investigating, what charges are being filed against them, and when is the trial coming? Who is the prosecutor on the case against Hillary and Obama? Hmmm.... Big words from a little man who can't back them up with facts, just mumbo jumbo from faux news. As far as stormy, I think she deserves the opportunity to tell her side of the story. What do you think? And all the other women, don't they deserve a chance to talk? Or are you so enamored with #45 that there is no need for anyone else to talk. Just do a goose step march to the drum beat of the Donald .

A Veteran

kingman --It is not hard to tell when you know you are losing ,you start name calling and try to belittle someone.Well bigshot if you listened to any thing but CNN and MSNBC you would know there is a IG report about to come out and one person has all ready got the axe from it and by the way I see you was to big a coward to comment on the McCabe firing.If you had kept yourself informed you would know that new DOJ people are looking at the Hillary Email investigation and DOJ is looking into what and when Obama knew about it.As far as your perverted interest in a p-rn star I could care less what she had to say.As far as I can tell that deal to keep her silent must be legal because it has already been to court at least once,so what crime are you saying Trump committed in this matter????


of course the only way republicans can get votes is appealing to the worst in people's nature. Walker admitted himself he was going to use the divide and conquer technique to get elected and he did. He was going to pit the rich against the poor, pick on middle class union jobs against non union jobs. The angry white man in rural america often feels left out of the economic pie, so the repubs exploit that by blaming the poor, or immigrants, the sick, disabled and the even the educated. And as you can see with hoaxers remarks, they fall for it hook, line and sinker! Hate has no bounds. And then the angry white rural peoples are told all they need is a billionaire to rescue them from their crying in their beer. Give more to the rich they are told, and it will trickle down to you when the rich go to the urinal. And of course they fall for it again. Divide and conquer is an age old strategy. Democrats blame many of the problems on the greed of the super rich who exploit the middle class and poor. And they are much closer to the truth than repubs are. But the super rich are hard to see as they hide in their fancy mansions while the poor and struggling are out there for all to see. So its easier to blame what you see than what you don't see.
So climatehoaxer, you think its ok to discriminate based on sexuality, or gay marriage. What about a doctor who refuses to treat you in the ER because his/her religion doesn't like your lifestyle or beliefs. then what? Just let you sit there and die is ok? And that line about a clothes maker refusing to make clothes for your buddy Trump is B.S. Too much info wars for you.


This writer needs to associate with those rural fools who voted for Trump. Mingle with people other than those who agree with you. You’re casting this off as Trumpis dividing rural and urban to win the election(I thought the Russians won the election for Trump?) Walk down the street, go to bars, go anywhere people congregate and more often than not you’ll hear people talk about immigration, terrorism, boarders, etc, etc, in the same terms Trump uses. Unlike, easy to hate Hillary, he connected with the people who don’t think a man should go to the women’s bathroom, bakers should be able to do business with whom they please, like the clothes makers who refused to work for the Trumps. There’s a double standard in this country and Trump sees things as MANY Americans do

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