in Extra Matter

Farmers as swing voters

When Nathan Rosenberg and Bryce Wilson Stucki talked to me about the myths embedded in the folk history of American agriculture, they made the point that the Democratic Party had more or less abandoned farmers and, more generally, rural people. It’s almost mutual, too, the biggest farmers apparently being staunch Republicans. But maybe that’s a myth too.

While I normally avoid straight politics, I thought it important to point to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the data-driven website. What If Tariffs Cost Trump The Farm Vote? makes some really interesting observations. Perhaps the most salient is that farmers seem far more interested in farming than in politics. That is, they’ll vote for whoever promises to do them most good, or least harm. They voted for Jimmy Carter, and abandoned him for Ronald Reagan after Carter stopped grain sales to the USSR.

Fast forward 40 years. We’re told that farmers overwhelmingly voted for the current President. And he’s just launched a trade war that could hurt a lot of farmers. FiveThirtyEight points out that:

[T]here are three states that Trump won by narrow margins in which a mass farmer defection could prove pivotal: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each of these states, the number of farmers far exceeds the president’s margin of victory in 2016. If all three states saw significant ag defection, a Democratic challenger could pick up a total of 46 Electoral College votes — enough to tip the balance even if Trump performs up to his 2016 standards in every other state in the union.

There’s more to it than that, of course, and it would undoubtedly help if the opposition actually had some policies to help the vast bulk of rural people, but what if …

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