Nina Turner: Democrats need to stop talking down to rural voters

Progressive activist and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner says Democrats could do a better job of reaching rural America, warning that the party still has not learned its lessons from the 2016 presidential election.

Turner, president of the nonprofit Our Revolution, which is aligned with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin meets with Sanders, Jayapal amid spending stalemate America can end poverty among its elderly citizens Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (I-Vt.), told Hill.TV that she can’t stand when politicians try to talk down to voters, particularly those in rural communities, and called on Democrats to change this kind of rhetoric.

“It just really makes me angry to hear elite-type politicians talk down to anybody, but I especially see that when it comes to our rural communities that just because they believe a certain way or they tend to vote a certain way that they don’t understand what they’re doing,” Turner told Hill.TV “Rising” co-host Krystal Ball during an interview that aired on Friday.

“No, they understand exactly what they’re doing,” she added, emphasizing that voters tend to vote their interests, no matter their political affiliation.

The former state lawmaker pointed to a quote from motivational speaker Stephen Covery: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

“That’s really what the Democrats need to do more of: Seek to understand what the people in rural America have to say and then for them to be understood, but you can’t talk down to people and just tell them what to do. You’ve got to come and get some understanding and that really is what this about, too," she said referring to her tour stumping for Democratic candidates across the country.

Turner acknowledged that this kind of change will take time and Democrats still have a long way to go when it comes to winning back rural voters.

“It’s going to take a long time — none of this happens overnight. You would think after 2016 — I mean for our party to lose to Mr. Trump, to even say President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE, we should be embarrassed and ashamed,” she told Hill.TV. 

Rural voters have traditionally backed Republican candidates over Democrats, and they played a key role in helping Trump defeat Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief MORE in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s vote share in rural America was 29 percentage points higher than what he received in the nation’s urban counties.

But Turner said she sees “pockets of change,” thanks to Democratic candidates like J.D. Scholten, who is running to unseat GOP Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.

“We’re going through growing pains right now, but I believe transcendence is just around the corner.”

— Tess Bonn