Author: Rural voters want rural-specific solutions to rural-specific problems

Rural Americans “want rural-specific solutions to rural-specific problems, and the policies they support come straight from the progressive platform. Democrats should lean into them,” says Matthew Hildreth,  the founder and board-chair of RuralOrganizing.org, a national network of over 40,000 progressive, rural Americans.

Hildreth says that “In order to win again in rural communities, Democrats should embrace populist, pro-democratic messages that reject big money in politics, call out race-baiting strategies of division, expand access to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and favor small, local businesses over major corporations.”

In an op-ed piece in The Hill, Hildreth notes that even in deep Red Nebraska, progressive ideas seem to do well.

This was evidenced by Nebraska voters passing Initiative 427, which will expand Medicaid coverage to some 90,000 working Nebraskans. The Cornhusker State joined deeply red Idaho and Utah, which also passed ballot initiatives that will expand the public health insurance programs despite the fact that Democratic statewide candidates in those states lost by at least 20 points.

Hildreth notes that in Missouri, where Attorney General Josh Hawley swept Sen. Claire McCaskill in the state’s rural and exurban areas, voters increased their $7.85 minimum wage to $12 by 2023.
Voters also approved ballot initiatives to end political redistricting, with 62 percent voting for the amendment, and they passed a constitutional amendment to allow medical cannabis by a similar two-to-one margin.
 
And then there was Amendment 4 in Florida — the ballot measure to restore voting rights for most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences. Amendment 4 outperformed statewide Democrats in Florida by 14 points.
New national polling commissioned this fall by Hildreth’s group and conducted by YouGov provides some helpful answers to explain this
 
The polling showed that without a doubt, rural voters lean right: two-thirds of rural residents (68 percent) consider themselves to be conservative or moderate; 52 percent approved of Donald Trump’s job performance at the time, and when it came to generic House candidates, Republicans held a ten point margin (43-33).
 
However, the results also strongly demonstrate that rural voters lean left on key progressive issues.
 
Small town folks feel the system is rigged for the powerful and wealthy, and a clear majority (77 percent) of rural Americans think Congress is giving tax breaks to the wealthy instead of investing in rural areas.
 
Two out of three (67 percent) support offering free tuition to local community colleges and trade schools, and a similar number (64 percent) want Medicare to cover all Americans. Over half (54 percent) back an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Only 38 percent support outlawing abortions.
 
Over 90 percent of rural Americans think we should invest in small, local businesses and protect rural schools from closing, and over 85 percent think we should “protect hunting and fishing habitats through smart land management policies.”
 
Similarly, 80 percent of rural Americans want to pass policies that support rural grocery stores, pharmacies, and clinics, and three out of four rural residents want individuals with drug addictions sent to rehabilitation centers instead of prisons.
 
But despite the popularity of progressive policies among small town voters, a majority of Rural Americans (55 percent) don’t think Democrats are fighting for their community. And that’s the key issue that rural voters want addressed. They want to know that a candidate is fighting for them, too.
Hildreth concludes that “Democrats tend to engage rural voters in one of two ways. They either outright ignore them, or they try to look more like Republicans.”