Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Christian Weller

Second Advisor

Stephen Ansolabehere

Third Advisor

Erin O'Brien


Rural places are changing in unique ways compared to urban and suburban areas. Rural residents disproportionately experience geographic isolation, tax base loss, decreasing populations, and economies challenged by industrial shifts and declines. This leaves rural areas with increasing need for public investment but does not necessarily translate into increased public demand for these investments. In this work, I analyze the following puzzle: what explains geographical variation in individual preferences, which often appears contrary to collective interests? Specifically, I analyze variation in investment preferences for public education and seek to build a better understanding of the underlying dynamics that explain why individuals across geography (urban versus rural) demand more or less funding for public schools. I contend that, apart from ideological differences compared to urban and suburban residents, unique and understudied factors are impacting collective decision-making in rural communities with a direct impact on public provisions. I approach this question through three research projects. In the first project, I analyze the determinants of tax preferences for public education comparing individuals who live in urban (metro) areas with those who live in rural (non-metro) areas. I find that there is a difference in the way that the low-income and middle-income in non-metro areas prefer education taxes compared to their metro counterparts. I also find that the belief that local, rural schools are spending more than average reduces tax demand for education, yet the belief that these schools are performing on average increases this tax demand while this effect is opposite in urban areas. In the second project, I analyze the local calculation that drives individual preferences for increasing state spending on public education. I find that as county median income and local unemployment increases, the preference to increase education funding declines, but this does not vary by place. In the third project, I analyze local bond elections in Texas, with a focus on the urban and rural divide, finding that across all places an increase in non-white students and county median income are related to an increased probability of school bond passage. Overall, I find that the urban-rural divide is not a significant way to explain differences in preferences and voter behavior. The findings in this dissertation show that preference variation is mainly related to local economic conditions, educational attainment, investment comparisons across jurisdictions, and differences in local beneficiaries.

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