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Cultural Issues in Rural America Gave Republicans a Wide Margin of Success in Recent Election

Contacts: Diane Fusilli/Lola Odunsi

Gender Gap Narrower Among Rural Voters,  Study Shows

BATTLE CREEK, Michigan, December 12, 2002 – Despite concerns about the  economy, cultural issues and strong support for the President helped push Republican candidates to victory in the recent election among rural voters, according to a pre- and post-election analysis released today by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

The report, written by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (GQR) and Public Opinion Strategies (POS), is an analysis of rural voting and voters.  The analysis specifically focuses on post-election research conducted by both research firms with actual 2002 voters, as well as previous national post-election data from 1998 and 2000.

This was the fifth consecutive election that rural voters have supported the GOP, suggesting a consolidation for Republicans in the post-Clinton era.  In spite of this national dominance, Democrats remained competitive in individual races in rural states such as South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Iowa.
Widening a 21% margin of victory established in the 2000 election, Republicans this year won rural voters by a margin of 24%, with 60% of rural voters choosing Republican congressional candidates, compared to 36% of rural voters selecting Democratic opponents.  Democratic congressional candidates were competitive as recently as 1996, but by 1998, GOP won solidly by double digits (24%). 

The research suggests that while rural and non-rural voters largely shared the same concerns about the country, particularly the economy, their support was driven by their conservative views about religion, gun control, and abortion.

“If we were to write off the rural vote as simply echoing national trends, we’d miss a seismic shift in American politics,” Bill McInturff, partner, Public Opinion Strategies, said.  “There’s a divide in U.S. voting patterns separating America’s heartland from urban and suburban areas.  Data makes it clear that rural voting patterns are motivated to a great degree by cultural issues and generally conservative political views, distinguishing voters in rural areas from their counterparts in non-rural areas.”

Thirty-seven percent of rural voters said they were likely to vote for a pro-life candidate, compared to 34% of urban voters and 31% of suburban voters.  In contrast,  only 29% percent of rural voters reported they were more likely to vote 
for a pro-choice candidate, versus 42% of urban voters and 40% of suburban voters.  In addition, 35% of rural voters said they were highly supportive of conservative religious groups, compared to 27% of suburban voters and 22% of urban voters. 

Forty-two percent of rural voters support the National Rifle Association (NRA), compared to 28% of suburban voters and 27% of urban voters.  Further, the NRA’s standing among rural voters is steadily improving.  In 1998, 34% of rural voters supported NRA positions; in 2002, 42% support the NRA. 

Rural views on gun control are related to patterns of gun ownership.  Nearly one in five rural voters (19 percent) owns one or two guns or rifles, compared to 15% of voters nationally, while even more rural voters – nearly one in four, or 24% – own between 3 and 9 guns or rifles, versus 14% of voters nationally.

The study found stronger support for President Bush among rural voters than among voters nationally.  His approval rating was 69% among rural voters, compared to 64% nationally.  Fifty-three percent of rural voters said they chose a candidate who supported Bush’s policies or programs, compared to 44% of voters in the suburbs and 37% of urban voters.  Not surprisingly, the President’s position on Iraq is also supported more strongly in rural America than in other areas. 

Competition still intense among Republicans and Democrats

Though Democratic candidates suffered big losses in rural areas, Republicans did not sweep individual races in rural states.  “Despite large Republican advantages in national data, rural areas saw – and will continue to see – stiff political competition between Republicans and Democrats,” said Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

In fact, Democrats won key races in rural states, proving that individual campaigns, local issues and candidate quality can make a vital difference in rural areas.  Democrats won the governor’s seats in Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, and the senatorial races in South Dakota and Arkansas.

“If we ignore the voting patterns of rural populations, we would be ignoring how one in four Americans votes,” said Rick Foster, Vice President for Rural Development and Food Systems at the Kellogg Foundation. “The nation is approximately one-quarter rural, and the population of 13 states is defined as 50% rural.”

Republicans enjoy clear advantages in rural areas on a variety of issues and opinions, but the electoral makeup of these 13 states shows diversity and competitiveness – with 7 GOP and 6 Democratic governors; 14 GOP, 11 Democratic and 1 Independent senator; and 20 GOP, 11 Democratic and 1 Independent Congressman.

The analysis relies specifically on two POS post-election national surveys with a combined sample size of 1,600  2002 voters and two GQR post-election surveys with a combined sample of 1,763  2002 voters.  All four of these surveys were conducted on November 5 6, 2002.  In addition, the analysis relies on a POS/ Pfizer/RGA post election national survey with a total of 800  2002 or 2000 general election voters conducted November 12 14, 2002.  Finally, the analysis employed a National Public Radio/POS/GQR study of 890 2002 voters conducted November 5-6.

Gender gap hardly exists in rural America

The study also found that rural women are more loyal to their party and more conservative in their political views than rural men, and unlike women elsewhere, their voting patterns closely mirror those of rural men.  In short, the gender gap that is commonly accepted as political wisdom barely exists in rural America, further separating rural women from their urban and suburban counterparts.

Forty-nine percent of both rural men and women voted Republican on Congressional ballots, compared with 51% of suburban men and 43% of suburban women who voted likewise, versus 33% of urban women and 46% of urban men who voted for GOP candidates in the latest elections.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 “to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations.”  Its programming activities center around the common vision of a world in which each person has a sense of worth; accepts responsibility for self, family, community, and societal well-being; and has the capacity to be productive, and to help create nurturing families, responsive institutions, and healthy communities.

To achieve the greatest impact, the Foundation targets its grants toward specific areas.  These include: health; food systems and rural development; youth and education; and philanthropy and volunteerism.  Within these areas, attention is given to exploring learning opportunities in leadership; information and communication technology; capitalizing on diversity; and social and economic community development.  Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the southern African countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

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