Monday, September 22, 2008

Rural battleground poll shows McCain doing better but still needs a boost in that part of GOP base

Presidential candidates often win or lose battleground states and the presidency depending on the rural demographic. President Bush can thank rural voters, especially in states like Ohio, for his two elections. (Chart from Bill Bishop's The Big Sort blog on Slate) A poll released today indicates that John McCain has yet to match Bush's marks among rural voters in 13 battleground states.

The bipartisan survey sponsored by the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies says McCain leads Barack Obama 51 percent to 41 percent in rural areas of 13 hotly contested states, but that number is not even half of what Bush got from rural voters in defeating John Kerry in 2004. However, Bill Greener, the Republican pollster who worked on the survey, told Howard Berkes of National Public Radio, "We are not where we need to be on election day but we’re moving in that direction." (Click here to listen)

McCain's lead is virtually unchanged from the 9-point advantage he scored in the center's poll in May. "But other measurements in the poll indicate that McCain's popularity is rising with rural voters," says the center's press release announcing the poll numbers. (Chart from the Daily Yonder) McCain's selection of Sarah Palin helped him firm up support in rural areas, with half of those surveyed saying they are more likely to vote for McCain as a result; 31 percent said the choice makes them less likely to vote for him. The margin of error for each poll number is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. For the full results, click here.

Obama's race is a factor. Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder writes, "Fifty-three percent of those polled said their neighbors and their communities were 'ready for a black president.' Twenty-four percent said their neighbors and the people of their communities were not ready for a black president. A quite large number, 23 percent, answered this question by saying they didn't know, refusing to answer or responding that neither option was appropriate." (Read more)

The Democratic pollster on the survey, Anna Greenberg, said the financial crisis is complicating the rural vote. She said, "Rural voters seem to be trying to decide which candidate can best address their economic concerns, and that means the rural battleground could be more competitive than we saw in 2004." Just over half of those polled said the issue they care most about is economy and jobs. "Other top issues were energy and gas prices (25 percent), the war in Iraq (21 percent), health care (18 percent) and terrorism and national security (12 percent)," the center said. "Moral values and illegal immigration ranked last on the list of voters' concerns, with 9 percent each."

"The question is whether the campaigns will translate [the importance of rural voters] into a conversation about rural issues and the future of rural communities," said Tim Marema, the center's vice president. The poll was taken Sept. 16-18 in rural parts of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. (Read more)

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