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To Fight Populism, Invest in Left-Behind Communities

People living in “places that don’t matter” have seen quality jobs disappear, public services eroded, and their economic prospects rapidly diminish. Seen in this light, today’s populist backlash is hardly surprising, especially when many politicians are part of the thriving urban elite.

CAMBRIDGE – As Western democracies become increasingly polarized, rural and small-town voters are regularly pitted against their counterparts in larger urban centers. While this is not a new phenomenon – and certainly not the only factor affecting voting patterns – the rural-urban divide is a significant driver of today’s culture wars. This dynamic, which economist Andrés Rodríguez-Pose evocatively described as the “revenge of the places that don’t matter,” suggests that the ongoing populist surge largely reflects geographic disparities.