As Congress argues over farm subsidies and food stamps, Rural Americans complain that elected officials ignore small communities and fail to invest in their future. So found a unique, comprehensive poll of Rural Americans on the role of federal policy in creating economic opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities. The poll was conducted by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and released today by the Center for Rural Affairs of Lyons, NE. It surveyed rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest and Southeast.
The poll found Rural Americans united in their commitment to their way of life. Nearly 9 in 10 believe the rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for. “But they sadly believe the rural way of life may be fading and they want to stop it, reverse it, and revitalize rural America," said pollsters Lake and Goeas. “And they believe they are being ignored by politicians and government and blame them for the state of the rural economy.”
Nevertheless, the poll found divided views about the role of government and populist views about the economy and big institutions.
Three fourths agree that America’s future is weakened by a widening gap between the rich and families struggling to make ends meet. But they split evenly on whether it’s time for government to play a stronger role in strengthening rural communities and making the economy work for the average person in rural and small-town America; or whether “turning to big government to solve our problems will do more harm than good.”
“Neither the conservative nor progressive ideological perspective has it right,” said Lake. “On the one hand, the language around lower taxes, smaller government, and fewer regulations is one of the highest testing messages. On the other, they support policies that call for more job training, increased infrastructure investments, more technology, and better preschool – all requiring a role for government in making things better.”
Goeas said “It is too simplistic to believe rural America is anti-government and that there is nothing for progressives to say, nor is it possible to say that rural America wants bigger government and more spending. They want tax breaks but they also support increased loans and grants to help people gain skills and open small businesses. They want more efficient and effective government and view much of public policy as a fairness issue in which rural America has not received fair treatment."
Among the results:
- Over half said that “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me” and most agreed with helping small business through less government (cutting taxes, spending and regulation) and strengthened government (loans, tax credits, training and antitrust enforcement).
- Three fourths agree that too much of federal farm subsidies go to the largest farms, hurting smaller family farms.
- Three fourths support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines for development of wind, solar and other renewable electric generation in rural areas.
- Eight in ten support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems and investments in roads and bridges.
- Six in ten say government has some or a lot of responsibility to help the working poor advance economically (versus a little or none). Eight in ten support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health coverage and helping the working poor afford necessities through payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Eighty five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school.
Rural Americans are frustrated that the economy has grown stagnant, feel they have too little control over their own economic situation and feel worse off now than four years ago, said Lake. “But rural Americans are somewhat optimistic that things will get better”, said Goeas, “and younger rural Americans are most optimistic.”
Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook said the optimism of the upcoming generation reflects the new entrepreneurial opportunities in rural America and growing appreciation for the rural way of life. “They get it," said Hassebrook, “and that gives them the capacity to lead their communities to a better future.”
“Politically,” said Hassebrook, “the poll reveals openings for candidates of either party willing to fight for federal policy that supports genuine opportunity for rural people and a better future for their communities.”
He pointed to the question asking voters whether they would find it convincing if a US Senate candidate made certain statements. Eighty seven percent said they would find it convincing for a Senate candidate to say: “Small-town America is a big and important part of what makes America go. We are hard working, patriotic, faithful, and skilled. Making sure our families, our small business owners, and our workers have the same chance as everyone else is fair and smart. That means supporting policies like investing more in helping our small businesses get started and bringing technology to our areas so we can be connected to the new economy.”