obama mc cain chart oct

Rural voters put George W. Bush over the top and into the White House in 2000 and 2004, but according to a new survey, they may not confer the presidency on this year’s Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.

An October poll in thirteen battleground states shows Democrat Barack Obama slightly ahead of McCain among likely rural voters. Obama led McCain 46% to 45% in the survey, commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies and the National Rural Assembly. In September, a poll of likely rural voters in these same competitive states showed McCain leading by 10%.

The new National Rural Assembly/Rural Strategies poll surveyed 841 likely rural voters in swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin ““ over a three-week period, October 1-21. The earlier survey was taken over three days, September 16-18.

Since the September poll, three presidential debates, a vice-presidential debate, the collapse of U.S. financial markets, and emergency legislation to shore up the nation’s banking system created an especially volatile atmosphere.

“Much of rural America was in a bind before the Wall Street meltdown,” said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies. “With rural in play, it would be helpful for these candidates to talk about ways rural America could contribute to a national recovery.”

obama barn indiana
Painting Kurt Bullard’s barn for Obama, Elkhart, Indiana, September 3
Photo: Kay Westhues

The October rural poll showed likely voters in battleground states favoring Obama on his ability to handle the economy (49% for Obama on this issue, 40% for McCain). They continued to favor Senator McCain’s policy on the Iraq War (53% for McCain’s Iraq policy, 43% for Obama).

The poll also showed self-described rural Independents in swing states warming to Obama.

Anna Greenberg, Democrat analyst and pollster of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, told The Center for Rural Strategies, “We’ve been saying that the Democratic candidate has to lessen the Republican advantage among rural voters, and Obama has done even better than that. He’s pulled the race to a tie among these voters.”

Bill Greener, a Republican strategist, agreed that to win McCain needs to solidify his strength among rural voters. “What the survey indicates is that there was defection among rural voters largely on economic issues,” Greener told NPR. Yet Greener finds in more recent “snap shot” surveys evidence that rural voters are moving back to McCain.

palin rally grand junction

Rally for Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in Grand Junction, Colorado, October 20
Photo: Donny Warbritton

A new AP-GfK poll finds McCain ahead 18% among rural voters nationally.

The discrepancy shows the sensitivity of polling methods and also may capture the erratic political climate this election season.

The AP survey was conducted October 16-20, a national poll in which respondents identified themselves as “rural.” The National Rural Assembly/Rural Strategies poll was conducted over three weeks in October and focused on voters in the 13 swing states; it made an independent determination of “rural” respondents, based on their place of residence.

The Center for Rural Strategies — which, with the National Rural Assembly, commissioned the October rural battleground poll — publishes The Daily Yonder.

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