Farm Progress

Why rural voters ride or die with Trump

Presidential experience matters little when it comes to voter preference in upcoming election.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

April 12, 2024

3 Min Read
Donald Trump
Getty Images/Scott Olson/Staff

At this point, it’s more than cliché to call this an unprecedented presidential election. In case you haven’t heard, voters will soon choose between the two oldest, most unpopular major party candidates in American history. What more can be said about a rematch seemingly nobody wanted?

One day historians will debate how these two improbable presidents were the best leaders America could produce. But before that history is written, voters have a unique opportunity to choose between two candidates with presidential track records.

Gone are the days of wondering how a candidate will act if they make it to the oval office. Like it or not, we know a lot about these guys. Probably more than we want.

You have to go all the way back to the 1800s to find a showdown between two candidates with presidential experience. Incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland lost to Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888 but came back to beat him in 1892.

More “recently” in 1912, two-term Republican President Teddy Roosevelt attempted a comeback against his successor, William Howard Taft. Running as a third-party candidate, Roosevelt split the Republican vote, paving the way for Woodrow Wilson’s victory.

Not even Biden and Trump are old enough to remember that one. The world’s current oldest living person was only five-years old in 1912. So yes, you can say this is a once-in-a-lifetime election.

Related:Will rural voters determine the president?

Funny thing is, people seemingly forget what the presidential records show. Or maybe, they just don’t care.

Over the past month, producers and likely rural voters have told me repeatedly they plan to vote for Trump because he’s the candidate best for the economy and their own bottom line.

This is the same Donald Trump who started a trade war with China. USDA estimates that little spat cost American agriculture more than $27 billion between 2018 and 2019.  According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. gross domestic product grew 14% during Trump’s term versus 22% during the first three years of the Biden administration.

Unemployment has decreased by half since Biden took office. Of course that is due in large part to the pandemic recovery. Still, when 2020 and 2021 are taken out, Biden and Trump’s unemployment numbers are similarly good. Both achieved 50-year lows during their terms. To put it bluntly, the argument that Biden somehow wrecked a strong Trump economy simply isn’t supported by the numbers.

Then there’s immigration and border security. Many farmers are begging for easier ways to access immigrant labor. Trump famously takes a hard stance on immigration of all kinds.

Yet, he also single-handedly torpedoed bipartisan border security legislation that included concessions Republicans never thought they’d get. Left-leaning Dems vilified Biden for supporting the bill. Still, it’s Biden who the public blames more for both labor issues and border security problems.

To be clear, I’m not making an argument for or against Trump. As reflected by his dismal approval ratings, there are plenty of other things voters dislike about Biden. Still, when it comes to the issues rural voters say determine their votes, the candidates’ records don’t align with common perceptions.

For all the deep analysis conducted over the past eight years (and there’s been plenty), pollsters have yet to accurately quantify why Trump’s support remains steadfast in rural America. While many supporters admit they have grown tired of The Donald, they still believe he is better than the alternative. By a long shot.

It would seem those voters are motivated by something other than what they claim to be their biggest priorities. Perhaps they are more comfortable with Trump’s charming personality. Or maybe they simply loved “The Apprentice.” Whatever the case, it remains the same riddle nobody’s been able to fully crack. Unprecedented times indeed.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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