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Poll: Romney surges among rural voters in swing states

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has increased a strong lead among rural voters in swing states, according to an independent poll released today in advance of the presidential debate tonight.

Rural, swing-state voters surveyed October 9-11 said they preferred Romney to President Barack Obama by a 22-point margin, 59 percent to 37 percent, with only 4 percent undecided, according to the poll, which was commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies and questioned 600 likely voters living in rural counties in nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Washington firm that works for Democratic candidates, conducted the poll. A Republican firm, North Star Opinion Research, helped design and interpret the poll’s results. The poll was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

In a similar poll from mid-September, conducted before the first presidential debate, Romney led Obama among rural voters in swing states by 14 points, 54 percent to 40 percent, with 6 percent undecided.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
The poll is definitely bad news for Obama. Democratic presidential candidates do not expect to win rural areas nationwide, but the rural vote is important in swing states. If the rural Republican vote is high in number and percentage, a Democratic candidate has a hard time winning, but if it is low a big urban and suburban vote can usually push the Democratic presidential candidate over the top. In 2008, Obama got 48 percent of the rural vote nationwide and 50 percent of the rural vote in the nine swing states, according to the Center for Rural Strategies.

The results of the recent poll appear to reflect the impact of the October 3 debate and increased campaign efforts by Romney in rural America, especially compared with the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008. McCain did not support the 2008 farm bill or the Renewable Fuel Standard, but Romney has called for passage of the farm bill and supports the RFS.

But the most intensive thrusts of the Romney campaign are to reduce regulation, hold down taxes and intensify trade negotiations. The poll did not, however, focus on farm bill or agriculture questions. (See details below.)

Dan Judy of North Star Opinion Research said Romney had been “under-performing” among rural voters in September. “Now he has surged into a huge lead,” Judy said, “And I think it’s fair to say his lead among these rural voters is what’s helping him in swing states overall.”

Judy said he expected these margins to stand through the election. “The reason for that is (these voters’) innate conservatism,” said the Republican pollster. “This is a case of them coming home.”

Obama has traveled extensively in the rural Midwest and has planned more travel there. But last week in an appearance on a farm near Van Meter, Iowa, Romney told the audience, “I want to ask you for a commitment, and that is for you to find at least one person who voted for Barack Obama last time and convince them to come join our team. Maybe find more than one. I need your help to do that.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report today that he had not seen the poll, but expects Obama to present “a contrasting vision” in tonight’s debate. (See story below.)

Reacting to the poll today, an Obama campaign spokesman said, “Mitt Romney has told a series of falsehoods about the president’s plan for rural America. And unsurprisingly, he’s failed to detail specific plans of his own – another example of how Romney has repeatedly tried to mislead voters about his plans and policies.”

“The truth is that his plan would gut the farmer’s safety net, raise taxes on middle class rural Americans and small business owners, and eliminate the wind production tax credit and 37,000 well-paying U.S. jobs,” the Obama spokesman said. “The president has pushed to strengthen crop insurance, extend tax cuts for middle class Americans while making sure millionaires pay their fair share – and he’s invested in the clean energy economy, calling for Congress to extend the wind production tax credit.”

“We’re seeing a major shift to Gov. Romney among these voters, and that’s going a long way toward tightening the presidential race,” said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, a Whitesburg, Ky., group that manages the partnerships and activities of the National Rural Assembly, a coalition made up of more than 400 organizations and individuals from 47 states working to build more opportunity and better policy for rural communities across the country.

Both Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican pollster Judy described the electorate in this year’s race as “highly volatile.”

Both Judy and Greenberg said the rural swing-state vote would affect more than just the presidential vote. Many of these swing states have close races for the House and the Senate and a strong vote out of rural precincts “is absolutely going to help those candidates who are down ballot,” Judy said.

“I think the president can overcome and still win (nationally),” Greenberg said. “But this makes it harder to win down ballot.”