Rural Voters Are More Progressive Than the Democratic Party Thinks

April 23, 2024

By Farah Stockman

Editorial Board Member – NYTimes

If you caught the scathing takedown of the book “White Rural Rage” in The Atlantic, then you’re aware of how intellectually dishonest it is to single out rural voters for special contempt. It’s also politically foolish, as a new poll by Rural Democracy Initiative, which will be released to the public in May, illustrates.

The group, which supports a network of progressive organizers in rural areas, commissioned the poll to help its members shape their messages in the most effective way. The survey, which was answered by 1,713 likely voters from rural areas and small towns in 10 battleground states, suggests that rural voters tend to be economic populists who would overwhelmingly support parts of the Democratic Party’s agenda — as long as the right messenger knocked on their doors.

Some 74 percent of rural voters who answered the poll agreed that decisions around abortion should be made by women and their doctors, not politicians or the government. That high figure helps explain why efforts to preserve abortion rights in Kansas, Ohio and other places have been so successful.

But it’s not just abortion. The survey found overwhelming support for leaders who fight to raise the minimum wage, to protect the right to form a union and to make quality child care more affordable — policy descriptions that seem ripped from President Biden’s campaign speeches.

The trouble is that a significant number of the respondents didn’t associate these policies with Democrats. In fact, once that partisan affiliation was added, support dropped significantly. Nonetheless, 47 percent of respondents said they would prefer to vote for a Democrat who grew up in a rural area and shared their values over a Republican business executive from the East Coast.

But perhaps the biggest problem the survey uncovered was that large numbers of respondents — especially young voters and people of color — reported that no one from the Democratic Party had reached out to them to offer information or ask for their support.

“It’s really clear that Democrats have a significant work to do to rebuild their brand in rural America, but that investment could pay dividends for Democrats, not just in the future but this year,” Patrick Toomey, a partner at Breakthrough Campaigns, which conducted the survey, told me.

In an election in which a few thousand votes could decide who wins the presidency or controls the Senate, it’s foolish to write off rural America.

Farah Stockman joined the Times editorial board in 2020. For four years, she was a reporter for The Times, covering politics, social movements and race. She previously worked at The Boston Globe, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2016. @fstockman

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