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Putting Inequality in Its Place: Rural Consciousness and the Power of Perspective


Why do people vote against their interests? Previous explanations miss something fundamental because they do not consider the work of group consciousness. Based on participant observation of conversations from May 2007 to May 2011 among 37 regularly occurring groups in 27 communities sampled across Wisconsin, this study shows that in some places, people have a class- and place-based identity that is intertwined with a perception of deprivation. The rural consciousness revealed here shows people attributing rural deprivation to the decision making of (urban) political elites, who disregard and disrespect rural residents and rural lifestyles. Thus these rural residents favor limited government, even though such a stance might seem contradictory to their economic self-interests. The results encourage us to consider the role of group consciousness-based perspectives rather than pitting interests against values as explanations for preferences. Also, the study suggests that public opinion research more seriously include listening to the public.

Corresponding author
Katherine Cramer Walsh is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 110 North Hall, Madison, WI 53706 (
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