Your campaign needs voters in the tiny towns in flyover country. Perhaps it has just one traffic light -- or none. There are more towns like Ransom, Illinois. (pop. 372) than like Chicago, Illinois. (pop. 2.7 million). Lumped together, they’re a sizable chunk of voters.
So why do many political candidates seem to run big-city campaigns in cattle country? Sure, they show for campaign fundraising dinners (get a room full of influential Republicans in dried-up oil towns together, for instance, and you’re still going to walk away with cash even after paying the prime rib bill and raffling away a rifle).
But the rest of the average voters not summoned to dinner that evening? They don’t exactly feel “listened to.”
Most local and semilocal political candidates have no choice but to master voter outreach in rural America. Here are some insights that are helpful no matter the level of office you seek.
‘Make America Great Again’
Whether or not you believe “great again” is happening, the campaign slogan brought droves of rural voters to the ballot boxes in 2016. They sought “a happier past, when they felt more secure and prosperous and respected,” as MinnPost writer Eric Black put it. “The rural voters .... are convinced that the maldistribution of government attention and aid favors the urban areas in general as against the rural areas in general,” he added, citing a study by University of Wisconsin political scientist Katherine Cramer.
The “liberal media” struggled to make sense of Donald Trump’s victory, while the House and Senate also went to the GOP. But Cramer (who authored The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker) wasn’t so shocked as mainstream media outlets contacted her late on Election Day wondering what the national polls and their pre-election analysis missed.
You’ve seen the current political divide and dynamic. Liberal or conservative, big or small, you likely saw it well before 2016.
Expect voter outreach to have a new tenor in upcoming elections. You’ll need voter demographic research to craft your campaign by what resonates with your base, moderates, and independents.
How to Lead the Conversation
In a beleaguered, old town with shuttered factories, people don’t want to hear the vague political buzzword “economic development.” What does that mean to them if they can’t even find a job? They won’t want to hear it if their coal mines or oil refineries closed after sustaining their families for generations.
Some would argue they don’t want to adjust to the 21st century. Others would say they’ve been perpetually denied key resources needed to adjust.
- Are they disillusioned?
- Are they disaffected?
- What can you do to ease their burden?
- Which message best enlightens and educates them?
Democrats -- who previously held some rural, Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Michigan -- got that wrong in 2016. That impacted races from president down to town clerk.
Years back, Hillary Clinton was quite popular with rural voters as a U.S. senator from New York. Her 2016 presidential campaign failed to reach them as Trump did -- and staging campaign points in front of a John Deere tractor in Iowa seemed disingenuous.
In Congress, just nine Democrats won elections last year in districts carried by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. As Democrats have increasingly focused on urban voters, they’ve seemingly lost touch with the economic, agricultural, and defense issues concerning rural districts.
Meanwhile, Dems would say the Republican base has lost its marbles and quite literally voted to make themselves poorer and have worse health care. Much remains to be seen, though. Check out the stock market.
Use Demographic Research to Boost Your Rural Voter Outreach
Take the pulse of the voters out there with political research. Become a resonant voice in their lives by learning what they actually need.
Demographic research can help.