Elected Officials’ Perceptions of Civic Discourse with and among Residents across the Urban-Rural Spectrum

June 2021
Kyron Smith

Constructive civic discourse is essential to the productivity of government at all levels. Despite its importance, polarization like that which exists in politics appears to damage constructive discourse and has brought up the question, what contributes to increasingly divisive discourse? This report looks at civic discourse through the opinions of local officials across the urban-rural spectrum to see whether the urbanity or rurality of a community is associated with divisive civic discourse. Existing research explains vital differences in why being urban or rural may contribute to divisiveness. Some of these include polarized political views among residents and the mistrust by residents who believe urban areas are more  economically prosperous than rural areas. Using MPPS survey data this report was able to look at the opinions of municipal officials in both rural and urban jurisdictions to see how they perceive the civic discourse throughout their community. The findings suggest that elected officials in urban and rural areas are very similar in how they perceive the state of civic discourse, and their status as urban or rural areas may not be associated with growing divisiveness on state and local levels.

Key findings

  • Urban and rural officials largely agreed on the state of civic discourse in their jurisdictions.
  • Officials, both urban and rural, tend to feel civic discourse in their jurisdictions is generally positive. 
  • Officials, both urban and rural, tend to believe civic discourse is more positive when they are an active part of the discourse. 
  • Urban areas tend to believe more than rural areas that discourse among residents is growing more divisive.