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Local government priorities across the urban-rural divide

As the year comes to a close, we're looking back at some of our 2023 surveys to see what local governments have been prioritizing and how these priorities vary across different communities.  

Below we report the priorities of 553 elected officials leading municipalities, townships, and counties across the United States. Results are broken down by population size: those respondents serving communities of less than and more than 5,000 residents, respectively. (While this segmentation is by no means a perfect indicator of the “urban-rural” divide, it is not a bad proxy.) 

Notably, local governments are not divided on all things. Several topics are near and dear to the hearts of local elected officials across population sizes, especially public safety, K-12 education, and economic development. 

However, for a subset of domains—especially parks, walkability, and some service provision—sharper differences emerge. Elected officials serving smaller populations are much less likely to report these domains as high priorities, while a majority of officials serving larger communities rank such areas as high priorities. 

As 2024 begins, we expect the urban-rural divide to remain a key point of demarcation in local and state governance. At CivicPulse, we will be continuing our investigation of the implications of these patterns for effective governance.  

Survey Background 

Below is the key survey item used in our analysis: 

Thinking generally about the wide range of issues that your community faces, please rate the following items in terms of how high or low a priority they are for you currently as an elected leader. 


  • Clean air and water   

  • Jobs and economic development  

  • Affordable housing  

  • Services for residents in need  

  • Walkability of your community  

  • Well-maintained parks  

  • Preparing for natural disasters  

  • Public safety  

  • High quality K-12 public education  

  • Accessible healthcare   

  • Improved roads and highways  

  • Improved public transportation 

Response Options:  

  • Not at all a priority 

  • Very low priority 

  • Low priority 

  • Somewhat low priority 

  • Somewhat high priority 

  • High priority 

  • Very high priority 


Press Contact: 

Nathan Lee, PhD 

Managing Director 

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