Voters find common cause on rural issues

Research published by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) finds that if the case is framed well, there is strong public support to ‘level up’ investment in rural areas, even among people living in towns and cities.

When shown a range of arguments for investing in rural areas, more than three quarters (76-77%) of the adults in England polled by YouGov supported putting more resources into those areas, compared to those who were against it (less than 5%).

Even where the trade-off between rural and urban investment was explicit, almost three times as many people (40-44%) supported rural investment than opposed (14-16%) it.

As politicians attempt to woo rural voters, the report, led by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), which is part of NICRE founding research partner the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), suggests that, as long as the messaging is right, most people are open to the case for investing more in rural areas, rather than having strong prior views.

NICRE Deputy Director Professor Tom MacMillan, the Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the RAU, said, “As we approach an election, these findings suggest that most people, even in towns and cities, are potentially supportive of rural investment when it is framed engagingly. This research should give politicians of all parties confidence in putting rural issues and places on the agenda.”

As well as being the view of those living in cities, towns and the countryside, this was also consistent across the political spectrum based on the way that respondents voted in the last election. This suggests that campaigning for rural investment could go down well in the countryside without alienating urban voters.

Further evidence from the research suggests the strongest cases for rural investment address the challenges head-on, avoid rhetoric or creating a ‘rural and urban divide’, and call for access to basic services wherever in the country someone lives.

Respondents to the YouGov poll were shown one of four ‘framing’ statements which positioned rural investment in a way to connect it emotionally with an audience, as based on evidence from focus groups with members of the public. The groups suggested people engaged most with rural issues when advocates used straightforward language, and worked with, rather than against, people’s perceptions of the countryside.

The report found the biggest ‘turn-offs’ were creating division between those living in rural and urban places, and attempts to convince participants of something that went against their existing beliefs.

Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE)’s Phillip Vincent welcomed the report, saying, “We take heart from this report finding people are supportive of rural investment. This backs up our experience that people recognise and empathise with the challenges rural communities face, from a lack of affordable housing to poor access to services.

“Having released our own recommendations for the next government recently, our hope is that this NICRE report will give politicians more confidence in tackling these issues because most people are supportive of solutions that aim to improve opportunities for people wherever they live.”


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