Inside Washington: Trump gains popularity in rural areas

Cruz has underperformed in some rural areas, while Clinton has not solidified her rural popularity as she did in 2008.

The crowded field of Republican presidential candidates has thinned out, and it seems that Donald Trump continues to pick up popularity in rural areas.

According to the latest Farm Futures presidential poll, Trump topped the GOP field with 40% popularity among farmers, slightly better than in the last survey conducted in January before the Iowa Caucuses kicked off the race. The battle for second place heated up after most of the hopefuls dropped out.

Moving up in the ranks is Ohio Gov. John Kasich — winner in only his home state of Ohio — who topped Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by 26% to 24%. While Cruz placed second in January, Kasich has picked up support from some in the so-called “establishment wing” of the party.

According to the Daily Yonder's Tim Marema and Bill Bishop, Kasich won Ohio, but in rural areas, Kasich lost to Trump by a few tenths of a percentage point.

“Kasich's lead in cities and small cities was more than enough to put him over the top in Ohio," they wrote. "He took the state by about 11 points, but in a trend we've seen frequently this season, the Ohio governor's support softened as voters became more rural. Conversely, Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz saw a rise in the percentage of the vote they won from urban to rural areas."

In Missouri, Trump beat Cruz by nine points to bring the close contest to within about 1,500 points. “With the Republican field narrowing after Sen. Marco Rubio's withdrawal, Missouri might offer an early glimpse of future primaries if the contest becomes a two-way fight,” the Daily Yonder reported.

Cruz's support with rural voters in North Carolina also faded, but ever so slightly — declining by about 1.5 points from urban to rural. Meanwhile, Trump saw another bounce, gaining about nine points over his performance with city voters.

In Arizona, Trump and Cruz took a higher percentage of the vote in rural counties than in the cities in the March 23 round of primaries reported by the Daily Yonder.

Idaho held caucuses, but only for the Democratic Party. There, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) won nearly eight out of 10 votes. Sanders saw his support drop a little, however, as the precincts became more rural. Clinton won about 20% of urban caucus-goers but took 29% of those voting in rural Idaho counties.

In Utah, Cruz swept the state's Republican caucuses, winning nearly seven out of 10 votes. The Texas senator's percentage was consistent across the geography of this solidly Republican state.

Trump showed strength in rural counties and small towns in primary victories in Mississippi and Michigan, where Trump's percentage of the vote rose the farther the voting precincts were from metropolitan centers. He won both states.

For Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's rural popularity still isn't solidifying like it did in 2008, but rural voters don't seem all that keen on Sanders, either.

Clinton maintained a commanding lead among farmers with a preference for another Democrat in the White House, topping Sanders 72% to 28%, although only 8% of those surveyed indicated a preference for a Democrat, according to the Farm Futures survey.

Bishop and Marema said the most surprising result of Super Tuesday's primaries on March 8 was Sanders' win in Michigan. “For Clinton, the results were a dramatic switch from 2008. In the primary eight years ago, Clinton's share of the rural and small-town vote was 10 percentage points higher than her vote in the cities. This year, Clinton's share of the vote dropped by eight points as the vote moved from the cities to the countryside,” they wrote in a recent overview of the March 8 results.

“Clinton has lost her rural and small-town touch in this election,” they wrote. “Instead, Sen. Sanders has been winning those rural votes — and as a result, he's still in a contest that most observers figured would have been finished long ago.”

Top issues

Farmers from both sides of the aisle again said the most important issue in the election is “the way government in Washington operates.” Republicans selected the federal budget deficit second, just ahead of the economy. Democrats put “income and wealth inequality” second, with the economy coming in third.

Undecided voters shared concern over Washington as an issue but placed the economy second.

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