Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Democrats seek to regain traction in rural areas, but are presidential candidates' proposals what rural voters want?

Mindful of Hillary Clinton's failure to connect with rural America in 2016, the current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls are expending considerable energy on reaching out to rural voters in hopes of closing a long-time gap.

"Democrats are climbing out of a deep hole in rural America. In 2008, Obama lost rural voters by 17 points, and by 23 points in 2012. Rock bottom arrived in 2016, when Clinton ran 34 points behind Trump among voters, according to data collected by Catalist, a Democratic data platform," Elena Schneider and Catherine Boudreau report for Politico. "Democrats clawed back some gains in rural counties in the 2018 midterm elections, and they want to build on that momentum in 2020."

Democratic candidates' plans include things like broadband expansion and expanded or universal Medicare. But are these policy proposals, which include greener farming practices, what rural people want? The Daily Yonder and its affiliated Rural Assembly talked to a dozen experienced rural-policy advocates about what top measures they would like to see 2020 presidential candidates address. "New or increased funding for rural programs is on the agenda, the Yonder reports. "But other themes include a call for inclusion, cultural parity, redirecting programs for more community impact, and holding large institutions accountable for the way they serve rural America." Here are a few highlights from what the rural-policy advocates told the Yonder:

Federal housing policy mostly benefits cities and suburbs right now, and must be revamped to help rural areas. That means investing heavily in local non-profits that know local housing issues best, and funding community development finance institutions to deploy in places banks can't reach, according to David Lipsetz, executive director of the Housing Assistance Council.

Increased access to health care is critical in rural America, where more than 100 hospitals have closed since 2010 and more are in danger of closing, according to Alan Morgan, president of the National Rural Health Association. Medicare cuts and the lack of Medicaid expansion contribute to rural hospital closures. Three in five rural voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who makes rural health care access a priority.

Rural areas need significant funding to support arts programming, better broadband to share that art with the world, and spaces dedicated to showcasing the arts. Making space for rural people to create and share art validates their identities and helps instill pride, according to Carlton Turner, the director and lead artist of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production.

For a complete list of issues and rural advocate recommendations, read the Yonder story here.

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