Monday, February 04, 2019

Democrats must engage more with rural voters, partly through rural newspapers, rural Dem strategist says

Coastal and urban Democratic candidates must do a better job of engaging with rural voters if they want to have more success in state and national elections, said Matt Barron said in a discussion with environmental and agricultural advocate Austin Frerick for The Daily Yonder. Barron, a Democrat, is a longtime rural strategist who runs the political research company MLB Research. Frerick, a seventh-generation Iowan, ran for Congress in 2018 and is a fellow at Open Markets Institute.

More big-city Democrats might try to reach out to rural voters if they knew how inexpensive it is, Barron said. Because most rural areas lack public transportation, people often have to drive long distances; that means radio ads can be more effective at reaching rural audiences than they are in urban areas. Display ads in rural newspapers also have a high market penetration and, like radio ads, are usually cheaper than advertising in urban papers. "For example, in Arizona, a quarter-page full-color ad in 15 rural weeklies costs $8,740 and reaches 91,000 readers in the state’s rural counties," Barron said.

The disconnect between rural and urban areas is rooted in the growing economic gap between the two areas, Frerick said, noting that many rural areas still have not recovered from the Great Recession. Many urban Americans are not aware of this gap, he said, because political donors "get a false sense of success" when they see the number of impressions garnered by digital ads, but don't understand how much impact $1,000 could have had if it had been invested in a county fair booth.

Noting the "growing number of state parties that have created rural caucuses" in their legislatures, Barron said they "have no capacity – no staff or funding to do the education and outreach to rural voters in their states. They are just names listed on the state party website."

Frerick noted that Democratic Party leaders are all from coastal urban areas, and that they and regular Democratic donors don't realize that rural areas require a different political strategy. "It’s not always about winning every exurban county, but winning 40 percent of the vote compared to Senator Claire McCaskill’s 27 percent of rural voters can make the difference between winning or losing a seat," Frerick said, noting last year's election in Missouri. "The continued poor performance in exurban areas will prevent Democrats from retaking the Senate for years to come."

Barron agreed, and said that the lack of broadband and increasing media consolidation means less news media presence in rural areas, which means rural voters have fewer sources of impartial news that could contradict Republican talking points. "If Democrats don’t have the resources to lay out the case on Republican opposition to key stuff in the farm bill, highway bill, energy and water appropriations bill, and the ramifications of those to rural constituencies, then they will continue to fail electorally in many red and purple places," Barron said.

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