June 28, 2004: Rural voters could decide election, poll shows
The battle to win votes in rural America is closer than expected and rural voters will play a critical roll in determining the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, according to a poll of rural voters in the most hotly contested states.
The first-of-its-kind poll, commissioned by a nonpartisan coalition of rural leaders and organizations, found that Republican George W. Bush leads Democrat John Kerry by 9 points (51 percent to 42 percent) among rural voters in the battleground states. The size of that lead will be critical in determining whether Bush or Kerry wins in the closely fought states, analysts said.
“The question isn’t whether George Bush will win in rural America,” said Democratic analyst Anna Greenberg. “The question is whether his margin among rural voters will be substantial enough to give him a victory in the overall election.”
Republican analyst Bill Greener agreed that rural areas are increasingly important in the 2004 campaign.
“Rural voters, especially rural voters in critical battleground states, will determine the outcome of the presidential election in 2004,” he said.
The poll showed that Bush’s lead among rural voters has softened since the beginning of the year, when Bush led Kerry among rural voters nationally by 15 points, 55 percent to 40 percent. In 2000, rural votes helped put Bush over the top in close states such as Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia.
The poll interviewed 536 likely voters in rural areas of the 17 battleground states from June 14-20. The survey was commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies on behalf of the 8055 Coalition for Rural America. The nonpartisan coalition includes rural groups and individuals concerned about the future of rural communities.
“Our purpose is to point out the importance of rural America and the vital needs that exist in the countryside,” said 8055 spokesman Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies. “This poll shows that now is the time for rural people to take their concerns directly to the candidates and ask about their vision for rural communities.”
Rural America lags behind the rest of the nation in employment, access to healthcare, and per capita income, said Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, one of the 76 organizational members of the 8055 Coalition. “We're anxious to hear the candidates’ plans for strengthening the rural economy,” he said. “These poll results should be a wake up call to the campaigns.”