How language can help or hinder the case for rural investment

Framing is a way of positioning an issue so as to connect emotionally with your audience. It can make the difference between winning support or indifference, not through manipulation but by tapping into beliefs and values that people already hold.

In Framing Rural, we wanted to examine how this concept could inform approaches to building a case for support for rural investment. We spoke with people campaigning for rural England and asked them what misconceptions they regularly come up against. We then looked at common ways of talking about rural places and asked members of the public how they felt about them. From this, we learnt how best to frame a case for investing more in rural places and then applied those insights when we polled more than 3,500 people.

The polling results suggest that, if the framing is right, people support rural investment. But the strongest support was for the idea that everyone should have access to basic services, regardless of where they live in the country. This may suggest that when it comes to making a case for rural investment, it could be most persuasive to appeal to people’s sense that everyone should have access to basic services regardless of where they live. 

Key findings

When shown a well-framed case, 76-77% of people we polled supported investing more resources into rural England, compared to 1-4% who opposed it.

Even where the trade-off between rural and urban investment was explicit, almost three times as many people supported (40-44%) as opposed (14-16%) investing in rural places.

‘Levelling up’ may be more affective at winning support than ‘singling out’.

The idea that essential services should be available wherever you live in the country was supported by 86% of people and opposed by just 2%.

People engaged most with rural issues when being straightforward and working with existing perceptions of the countryside.

The biggest ‘turn-offs’ were creating division between rural and urban, and attempts to convince of something that went against existing beliefs.

Talking about fairness is effective, but people need to know how inequalities can be addressed and who is responsible for doing so.

Focussing solely on economic opportunities can raise suspicions if not handled sensitively.

Romanticising the countryside may land well with some people who live there, but others can find it patronising, and it risks sounding archaic.

Rural places as centres of green regeneration can be an engaging idea as long as this is linked to the global challenges of climate change.

People connected strongly with the idea of communities already helping themselves but needing extra help to do more.

Focussing on innovation in rural areas only engages people if it rings true and does not create a divide with urban areas.


How we frame matters
The language used and the frames chosen impact how well people connect with the challenges facing rural places.

People are receptive to rural issues
If the framing is right, people appear willing to support the investment that could drive change for rural areas. Even if they live in an urban area themselves.

Showing common cause may strengthen the case
In some circumstances, making a case on the grounds of a clear principle that could apply to rural or urban places, such as ‘levelling up’ or ensuring universal access to services, may be more effective than singling out rural places as ‘in need’. Showing common cause will be more engaging than arguing that rural places are exceptional.

This suggests that when it comes to making a case for rural investment, it could be most persuasive to appeal to people’s sense that everyone should have access to basic services regardless of where they live. It could also be helpful give examples of rural and urban places that share similar challenges, needs or opportunities.

Research team