Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Community Resilience in the Rural South: Applying Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping to Identify Barriers to Rural Voting Behavior (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

187P (see Poster Gallery) Community Resilience in the Rural South: Applying Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping to Identify Barriers to Rural Voting Behavior

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Na Youn Lee, MSW, MIA, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Mississippi, MS
Anne Cafer, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Mississippi, University, MS
Background/Purpose: Extant literature on community resilience is firmly couched in disaster resilience, specifically preparedness and mitigation (Rockefeller Foundation 2014; Cabell and Oelofse 2012, Cafer et al. 2019). Yet there are emerging frameworks that argue for a more broadly conceptualized idea of community resilience (Carpenter 2012; Kais and Islam 2016), which focuses on a diverse range of community level institutions, systems, and organizational structure to address both short-term shocks and long-term stressors a community experiences. This study, therefore, examines barriers to civic engagement and political participation in one of the most impoverished rural areas in the Deep South through a broader community resilience lens. The county has historically been segregated and marginalized, with 8,000 current residents, who are predominantly Black (70%) and poor (40% living below the poverty line).

Methods: The study employed fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM), a novel mixed methods approach, to study the barriers to voting. FCM combines qualitative inquiry with matrix algebra, allowing individuals to identify a range of institutions, actors, and spatial factors and how they interact (i.e., strength and direction) (Ozemi and Ozemi 2004). It helps build a picture of power structures within the socio-ecological system that influence rural civic/political engagement. Semi-structured interviews took place from December 2018 to March 2019 and 14 participants were asked a series of questions focusing on their experience with voting. Additionally, 55 self-administered surveys collected from the same region during the 2018 midterm elections were analyzed to supplement the findings.

Results: FCM analysis revealed four heavy transmitter variables that impact other systems: power (class, status, transportation), knowledge/information (lack of clear understanding of rules, procedures, and who is running for office), motivation (apathy), and mobilization (town hall, door knocking, social media communication). Decisions to vote (or not vote) were related to the following system components: external efficacy (perceptions of government responsiveness), power, knowledge/internal efficacy, and motivation. Supplementary survey results showed that 65.5% were Black and an average resident had lived in the community for 25.8 years. Over 64% believed that government officials actually cared about people like themselves and 61.5% thought they had a good understanding of important political issues. However, only 11.9% correctly reported which seats were up for elections. Participants identified the following as the most important issues facing the community: poverty and lack of jobs and housing (43.2%); absence of hospitals and grocery stores (15.9%); insufficient education and afterschool resources for at-risk youth (13.6%); and dilapidated infrastructure, crime and effective law enforcement (22.8%). Other issues identified include a lack of community (apathy) and civic engagement, enhancing voting rights, and reducing racial stigma.

Conclusions/Implications: This was an exploratory study that collected unique empirical data on political/civic engagement in an impoverished rural area. Using a novel mixed-methods approach, the study identified the strength and directions of community factors that influenced voting behavior. Supplementary surveys revealed local needs and strengths as they relate to political literacy and agency. How social work can enhance community resilience in these segregated, marginalized rural communities through community-based advocacy and mobilization will be discussed.