Rural voters evenly split in congressional and Senate races, poll finds
WHITESBURG, Ky. -- The rural vote is up for grabs, according to a poll of rural voters in contested congressional and Senate races released Sept. 22, 2006, by the Center for Rural Strategies.
And how well the parties do in rural America is likely to determine who controls Congress.
The poll of rural voters in 41 contested congressional districts with significant rural populations found Democratic and Republican candidates running a dead heat, with each party receiving 45 percent of the possible votes. In six contested Senate races in states with significant rural populations, rural voters favored Republican candidates 47 to 43 percent, but the gap falls within the poll's margin of error of 4.3 percentage points, making a statistical tie.
The most important issue on rural voters' minds is the war in Iraq, followed closely by jobs and the economy and terrorism and national security, the poll found. Strikingly, nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they knew someone who has served in the armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Democratic analyst Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner said rural voters' concern over the war and the economy could give Democrats the opportunity to gain ground in rural areas. "These races are very tight, and a swing among rural voters could well tip the balance," Greenberg said. "That means Democrats who can reach rural voters have a strong chance to win elections and perhaps gain majority control of the House."
Republican analyst Bill Greener of Greener & Hook agreed that the rural vote is key to the outcome of the election.
"The Republicans can't control the House of Representatives without holding onto rural voters, and I'm optimistic that we will," Greener said. "The Congressional vote numbers in this survey are almost precisely what they were at this point in 2004. In recent years, the Republican vote in rural areas has surged in the last few weeks before the election."
Rural voters were key to President Bush's 2004 election, in which significant Republican victories in rural areas made up for a Democrat advantage in urban areas.
"Who wins rural matters," said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, which commissioned the poll. "And right now rural is in play. Our hope is that this translates into a full and vigorous discussion about issues that concern rural communities."