A recent poll of 682 rural voters in key battleground states found Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at a virtual standoff. And how they influence rural voters between now and Nov. 7 could determine which one sits in the Oval Office chair.
The poll was conducted by the non-partisan Center for Rural Strategies. It surveyed rural voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. These states have been dubbed as "swing states" by Democratic and Republican strategists.
Large rural margins were central to President Bush's White House races in 2000 and 2004, points out Republican poll adviser Bill Greener. Despite that the Republican brand is suffering even in rural American, "McCain still shows strength, even if it's not yet at the level required to win on Election Day," he adds.
"If the current numbers hold, Barack Obama will do appreciably better in rural American than John Kerry did four years ago," predicts Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. "That said, this survey shows some real challenges for the Democratic front-runner."
The poll shows that both candidates need to pay attention to rural voters, declares Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies. "National elections turn on rural votes. But we're miles away from seeing national policies on issues like energy, jobs and the environment that reflect the concerns of rural voters."
Top issues of rural America
High energy costs were the most important economic issue to half of the poll respondents. That's double the count of those selecting the next highest issue – spending too much money on Iraq.
Rural voters were asked which candidate would deal with key issues better. Here's how they scored:
• Dealing with the economy: Obama, 44%; McCain, 38%.
• Dealing with Iraq: McCain, 44%; Obama, 41%.
• Dealing with taxes: Obama, 38%; McCain, 37%.
• Dealing with rural issues: Obama and McCain, 36%.
• Sharing your values: McCain, 44%; Obama, 35%.
• Bringing the right kind of change: Obama, 45%; McCain, 34%.
Note: 18% of those polled did not know which candidate would do a better job addressing rural American's problems. With a 3.75% margin of error, the surveyed voters were evenly split on which candidate would be best.
The Center for Rural Strategies poll was conducted for the National Rural Assembly, a group of rural leaders and advocates. The latter group gathers in Washington, D.C., next week (June 16-18) to consider ways to increase national awareness of the importance of rural communities. For details, visit the Web site www.ruralassembly.org.