The big margin of support among rural voters that helped Donald Trump secure victory four years ago is looking less firm in 2020 with the potential to shift the outcomes in key battleground states.
Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, is nowhere near winning the rural areas of the country, where roads are lined with Trump-Pence lawn signs and barn banners and campaign flags flutter from pickup trucks.
But polls leading to Election Day show that enthusiasm for the incumbent has waned compared to 2016. In a race where the margin of victory may be slim and turn on the result in just a handful of states, even a slight dip for either candidate in a core constituency can mean the difference between winning and losing.
With the coronavirus spreading more than 60% faster in non-metro areas than the rest of the nation, Trump’s support has slipped. While the president has deployed agricultural subsidies to help cushion the blow, the farming sector had already suffered before Covid-19 from the trade war Trump launched with China. The bonanza of Chinese purchases Trump promised after his January trade deal have yet to materialise.
That helps explain why Trump’s 28 percentage point margin among rural voters in 2016 exit polls has shrunk to a 15 point lead (56% to 41%) among rural likely voters in a Survey USA poll taken October 16-19, the most recent poll where the breakdown is available. His latest reading is also below the 20-point advantage in 2012 for Republican Mitt Romney, who lost his bid for the White House. Other polls have shown similar drops. The president’s job approval among rural and small town residents dropped in a Gallup Poll September 30-October 15 to 55% from 62% as recently as May.
Any erosion of that rural base could prove particularly dangerous for Trump in the three battlegrounds he dramatically flipped in 2016 to secure an Electoral College triumph: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. With suburban voters in those states, which have been traditionally blue in presidential elections, turning back towards the Democrats, it’s all the more urgent for Trump to shore up his rural backing.
The president has been devoting precious campaign time to revving up support among these crucial constituencies, traveling last weekend to Muskegon, Michigan, and Janesville, Wisconsin — both small cities in mostly rural areas. He returned to Wisconsin this weekend, along with stops in Ohio and North Carolina, two other states he won in 2016 that also are in play this year.
On the Democratic side, the party’s main focus is to crank up turnout in historically Democratic districts where Hillary Clinton underperformed in 2016. But Biden is also making more of an effort than Clinton to contest the rural vote.
Biden hired a rural coordinator and sought to gain favour among Midwest corn farmers. Almost 40% of corn grown in the US is used for ethanol.
The former vice president is also actively deploying surrogates including Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and US Agriculture secretary, onetime presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota senator.
Joe Biden plans his first campaign trip to Georgia
Joe Biden will travel to Georgia on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential nominee’s first campaign trip to a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1992 but one where polls show a tight race.
Biden plans to travel to Warm Springs and Atlanta, according to his campaign, as Democrats focus on flipping a state that’s been trending in their direction.
The former vice president will speak “on bringing Americans together to address the crises facing our nation,” his campaign said.
President Donald Trump won Georgia by five percentage points in 2016, but Democrats have made inroads in the state, particularly among white, college educated voters.
The RealClearPolitics average of state polls has Trump and Biden tied.
Democrats are also hoping to win the two Senate races in the state, with Jon Ossoff running even with Senator David Perdue at 43% in a recent New York Times poll. The other race is a special election that is likely headed to a runoff in January as a candidate needs to clear 50% to win.