The Center for Rural Strategies has conducted a follow-up survey of rural voters that bodes very well for Democrats' prospects in 11 days. Last month they released a survey of rural voters in 41 contested Congressional districts
, and their findings were somewhat encouraging for Democrats. In September they found the House races in a dead heat, with each party receiving 45 percent of the possible votes. In six contested Senate races, Republican candidates had 47 to 43 percent advantage, within the margin of error of 4.3.
The results of the follow up survey (conducted Oct. 22-24 among 500 likely rural voters, MoE 4.4 percent), following on the heels of the Foley scandal and another deadly month in Iraq show a marked swing in favor of the Democrats:
The poll of rural voters in 41 contested congressional districts found that likely voters preferred Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives by a margin of 13 points, 52 percent to 39 percent. In mid-September, the same population of voters was evenly split between the two parties at 45 percent each.
In contested Senate races in states with significant rural populations, rural voters preferred Democrats by 4 points, 47 to 43 percent, reversing the 4-point lead Republican Senate candidates held among rural voters in mid-September. But those results fall within the poll's margin of error.
One of the most remarkable things they found in the first poll was the vast number of rural people who knew someone serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Almost 75% of respondents had a family member or friend serving. Last month, the war in Iraq was rated as the most important issue facing America by 28 percent of respondents. This month, that percentage is up to 38. The direction America is taking in Iraq is far more critical to these rural voters than the Foley scandal, interestingly:
Three-quarters of respondents said the congressional page scandal involving former Representative Mark Foley was not a major factor in their votes. More than half said it didn't matter which party's candidate they voted for when it came to moral issues.
As important as the war in Iraq has been, respondents in September and in October both identified the most important change needed in America following this election is "An economy that works for ordinary people, not just the rich." This reinforces what I've heard in Idaho and Nebraska--the economy isn't working for rural communities, for ordinary people. Residents in these states feel they don't have much of a say or a stake in the economic development of the country, and are being passed by economically.
Both September's and October's polls show the "values" issue as paramount to a small percentage of rural voters. Only 15 and 16 percent, respectively, of respondents put values issues as one of their top two concerns. The Foley issue does have an impact, though, on respondents' views of Republican identification with "values" (pdf):
While most say the Foley scandal will not make a difference in their vote, it clearly muddied the waters for the Republicans' ownership of "values" issues among rural voters. In a paired statement, 52 percent agreed that when it comes to moral values, it doesn't matter if they vote Democrat or Republican, while 40 percent agree that it is still important to support Republicans on values.
Finally, there's one thing that is consistent among polls of all kind across the nation in the lead-up to November 7:
The movement towards Democrats comes largely from Independent and moderate voters. Republican support for Republican candidates is weaker than Democratic support for Democratic candidates. We also see an enthusiasm gap - the most interested voters give Democrats much wider margins than voters overall; in fact, Republicans lead among the least interested voters.
This is a block of voters that has remained loyal to Bush longer than any other (though his approval has dropped two more points in the past month from 47 to 45), but recognizes that the country is on the wrong track, and at least seems willing to consider electing Democrats as a way to start fixing it. Now it all comes down to getting out the vote.
Update: See Devilstower's diary from earlier today for more discussion.
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