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College of Arts and Sciences

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How your home shapes your politics: Q&A with Krissy Lunz Trujillo

During an election year, you’ll see your news and social media feeds increasingly filled with examples of political polarization. But differences in political opinions also have roots in where you call home. 

As a political scientist in USC’s College of Arts and Sciences, Krissy Lunz Trujillo researches how the division between urban and rural communities drives polarization between opposing political views. In this interview, Lunz Trujillo explains some of the key differences between the communities. 


LE: When it comes to political views, does it really matter where you live?  

KLT: We all have groups that we’re a part of and identities that we feel strongly about for various reasons. This could be a culture, your race or ethnicity, religious background, how you vote or where you live. We live in a time when politics and our society tend to divide people into one group or another. 

In my work, I look at affective polarization in politics, which is when the division between two groups creates an “us versus them” mentality. Where you live is one such division that tends to predict how you think and act politically.


LE: How does this play out in the divide between people who live in cities and those who live in small towns or in the country? 

KLT: In the case of the urban-rural division, we see cultural distinctions that drive many of the choices people make. For example, in rural communities, people are more likely to distrust scientific experts. This distrust can result in more hesitancy around things like vaccines and public health policies, which we especially saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


LE: So, people in rural areas were less likely to get the vaccine? 

KLT: Not necessarily, but I would say there was more hesitancy around getting it. People in rural areas tend to hold more community-centered views, which means they believe it’s important to watch out for their own community and work for the betterment of the group. While the COVID-19 vaccine became quite politicized, many people in rural areas ultimately did get the vaccine to help protect their community and the people close to them. 


LE: Is there anything you’ve learned about rural communities that people may not expect? 

KLT: Like all groups of people, rural communities have a lot of diversity, which makes the division between urban and rural cultures that much more nuanced. Rural communities are often more conservative leaning, yet we see Democrats and Republicans in rural communities who have distinct shared values compared to their urban counterparts. 

These shared values can transcend location. I’ve recently studied how in some cases people who don’t actually live in rural areas identify as rural. This most often would be someone who grew up in a rural area and moved to a city but still identifies as being from a rural place. But it also can be someone who has no roots in a rural community but connects with the values and lifestyle of rural culture. 


LE: How did you become interested in this area of research, and why is USC a good place to study this? 

I grew up in a rural community in Minnesota, and I’ve lived most of my adult life in cities as I worked on my degrees. I’m excited to be in South Carolina, a state that is nearly one-third rural by population. The political science department has a number of faculty members studying issues related to affective polarization and cultural divides, and I’m looking forward to continuing my research in this area and many others. 

Hear from faculty experts on politics and polarization in a panel discussion, entitled “Beyond the Primaries,” on February 21, 6 - 7:30 p.m., at the Williams-Brice Building, Rm. 231 (1601 Greene Street). Featuring David Darmofal, Elizabeth Connors, Krissy Lunz Trujillo and Todd Shaw. 

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