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If all you knew about Missouri is what you observed in this year’s political spots for state and local candidates, you might think it is full of farms and little else.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates stress their rural roots and agrarian values. You would be looking in vain for an office-seeker walking down Washington Avenue in Downtown St. Louis, extolling the glories of urban life.
These commercials are still one more reminder about the urban-rural split that has plagued Missouri for generations. Even though upwards of three-quarters of the state’s population lives in its metropolitan regions, the political balance of power still tilts toward its rural side.
There have been many attempts to bridge this divide but none have succeeded. Urban residents frequently refer to the rest of the population as “outstate Missouri” as in “outside my reality.” For many rural dwellers and exurbanites, the state’s two major cities are filled with dens of iniquity and crime-ridden neighborhoods. One only ventures into this urban jungle to visit the zoo or take in a ball game.
So what could be a strength for Missouri — its ability to have the best of both rural and urban settings — continues instead to be a handicap. Misunderstanding between the rural and small town residents and their counterparts in the large cities and inner suburb citizens become reflected and then reified in the state’s political rhetoric.
As the prison official in Cool Hand Luke put it, what we have here is a failure to communicate.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.