RALEIGH – It’s hard to ignore the widening gaps in politics and demographics reshaping America these days.

But when it comes to the “rural-urban divide,” we may not be as different as we think.

At least, that’s what Juliana Menasce Horowitz, associated director of research at Pew Research Center, suggested at NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) ReCONNECT Rural & Urban Forum on Monday morning.

Presenting data from Pew’s recently released report, “What Unites and Divides Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities”, which she co-wrote, Horowitz highlighted some of trends across these communities after conducting an online survey of 6,251 adults last year.

By all accounts, the results weren’t as cut and dry as some might believe.

Rural-urban divide more ‘nuanced’

“The takeaway for the study is that things are more nuanced than some of the stories that are out there,” she told a 500-strong crowd gathered at the Raleigh Marriott Center City.

Among the not-so-surprising findings: urban and rural communities are becoming increasingly different from each other politically.

Today, twice as many urban voters identify as Democrats or lead Democratic as affiliate with the Republican Party. Meanwhile, rural adults have moved more firmly into the Republican camp.

More than half (54 percent) of rural voters now identify or lean to the GOP, while 38 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic, the report finds.

Yet, against this backdrop, the survey found that many rural and urban residents share several things in common: about two-thirds or more say people in other types of communities don’t understand the problems people face in their communities.

That’s not all. Roughly equal shares of urban (50 percent) and rural (46 percent) residents say that drug addiction is a major problem in their local community.

When it comes to the availability of jobs, “rural adults are somewhat more likely to say this is a major problem where they live (42 percent say so), but a substantial share of urban dwellers (34 percent) say the same, significantly higher than the share of suburban communities.

“For sure, there are differences, particularly when it comes to their political and social views, and people are feeling that,” said Horowitz.

“But for people who are looking for common ground, there’s also a lot unites these communities – both in a positive and negative way. They’re seeing similar problems, and they’re similarly attached to their neighbor and engaged with their community. So for you who are working to bridge those gaps, there’s plenty out.”

Bridging the divide

Lee Worsley, executive Triangle J Council of Governments, was also on hand to tackle the hot-button issue.

With the lines between the urban and rural divide increasingly becoming blurred, he encouraged parties on all sides to reach over lines – real or perceived – to promote economic equity for all.

“I hope we will continue to work on these things: a better understanding of the natural and economic boundaries that frame the issues that we care about, how we can work across institutional boundaries to best address those issues, and how we can be mindful of perception boundaries that might keep us from recognizing hidden truths in finding the best solution for all of our citizens,” he said.