The Great Recession started in 2008 on Wall Street in one of the wealthiest parts of the United States. Wall Street, in the popular imagination, is filled with Ivy League elites who create money out of thin air and pocket the actual money.
Fast-forward years later, and the economy has begun to crawl out of the Great Recession. In the years since, Wall Street has been reprimanded repeatedly for creating the subprime mortgage crisis. However, if Wall Street was to be blamed, curiously few people from the financial sector have been punished for their less-than-moral actions. And even as the Dow Jones has gone back up and the unemployment rate is creeping downwards, people are generally unhappy, and this is reflected in the rhetoric surrounding Washington DC—President Obama won his 2012 reelection campaign, despite managing an economy with a record unemployment rate. The middle class is still suffering while arguably, the upper classes are right back to where they were, and only growing more wealthy.
Surprisingly, this might be attributed to fundamental differences between the cities and states that voted for Obama in terms of their unemployment rates. Liberal, urban counties, such as New York City, have not seen the catastrophic eight percent unemployment rate that is the average around the United States. The urban core has only seen a 0.1 percent drop in the percentage of people looking for work, a rate that is used to assess how the economy is doing (people who have given up on looking for work are considered another indication of how the economy is doing, since they won’t be factored into unemployment rates)1.
In contrast, the rural counties have seen a 2.3 percentage drop in the percentage of people looking for employment. In general, rural counties have suffered a higher unemployment rate than urban counties, with twenty two states in the United States seeing urban counties with an unemployment rate that is one percent below that of rural counties. 2
These rural counties were more likely to have voted for Romney—when Romney spoke to the American people about the growing unemployment and the terrible economy and how the federal government hasn’t done anything for them, the words resonated deeply within them. They haven’t seen the economy getting better, despite all of these government initiatives—maybe the government is getting in the way of them doing better.
In the meantime, plenty of voters are still doing badly in this economy even in urban areas (black men, for example, are far more likely to be unemployed than any other sector of the working age population3). However, percentage-wise, voters in urban areas are more likely to be seeing an uptick in employment opportunities, and are thus more likely to believe that Obama is involved in how the economy is.
In the end, you vote based on what you see around you—and plenty of rural voters don’t see the hope and change that they were promised years ago.