Is Opposition to Gay Marriage Enough of a Rural Platform?
A study of the 2004 election found that rural voters supported Bush in large numbers primarily because of his opposition to gay marriage. Is that why Republican candidates in ’07 have failed to offer ideas about rural America’s future?
What does Mitt Romney think of the farm bill? How does Rudy Giuliani figure the federal government can help small towns survive?
Mitt Romney campaigns in Clear Lake, Iowa.
The Daily Yonder has written about the rural platforms (or records) of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Fred Thompson. We see that Barack Obama is putting together his rural program and the DY will report on that shortly.
But what about the leading Republican candidates: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney? The crack Yonder staff has scrounged around databases and scoured websites and speeches — and we’ve found”¦.
When you look for “rural" or “farm" at either the Giuliani or Romney websites, there’s very little. When you search back issues of newspapers for what these leaders have said about crop supports, rural housing or small schools, you don’t find much. Well, really, you don’t find a thing. Neither candidate has an “issues" section dedicated to rural America. Neither candidate has a history of working on rural problems.
The candidates address all manner of issues. Mayor Giuliani has positions on Iraq, Public Safety, the War on Terror, Abortion, the Second Amendment and Marriage. But not rural America.
Gov. Romney has talked about taxpayers, children and immigration — but not about the future of small towns, farms or rural America. (Well, we do know that in 1994, Romney, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, proposed getting rid of the Department of Agriculture and reducing farm subsidies.)
Why the silence? The Yonder has no inside information, but we think one answer can be found in an analysis of the 2004 election. Political scientist Peter Francia and his colleagues at East Carolina University (Greenville, North Carolina) have been studying the 2004 election, when rural residents voted in waves for George Bush.
Francia has sorted through the survey data from that election and found “significant differences between rural and urban residents." But the reason Bush won rural America in landslide fashion was “his socially conservative position on the issue of gay marriage."
Rural areas have grown considerably more Republican since 1980, Francia discovered. By 2004, rural America was extremely Republican. After the political scientist controlled for every other demographic factor (age, race, income), rural Americans voted for George Bush at a rate ten percentage points above the rest of the nation.
Photo: Andrew Cline
The country has polarized, rural and urban. But why?
Francia runs through the usual list of differences: rural Americans attend church more often than urban residents; they are more likely to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible; rural residents are more likely to be married, to own a gun and to own a house. Rural residents in 2004 were twice as likely as urban residents to support the Iraq War. But rural residents are also more culturally conservative — and in 2004, 71 percent of rural residents said their cultural disagreements with Democrat John Kerry led them to vote for George Bush.
The most important factor in how rural residents voted in 2004 was gay marriage, Francia found. More than tax cuts, guns or the Iraq War, opposition to gay marriage moved rural voters. Francia wrote, “In short, gay marriage appears to have been the dominant cultural issue of 2004 and was important in understanding the success of George W. Bush among rural voters."
Of course, 2004 isn’t 2007 or 2008. But it may be that leading Republican candidates are pretending as if it is (and will be).No wonder Republican candidates mention rural less often in their debates. Maybe they figure that opposition to gay marriage IS a rural platform.
So, Giuliani has issued a position on marriage, but not farm policy, rural development or rural health care. (Giuliani has the ticklish problem of being against gay marriage, but FOR gay civil unions, a distinction that sets him apart from his opponents.) Romney has a position on “America’s culture and values," but nothing particular for small towns. (Romney recently said Sen. Clinton was too liberal to be elected in France.)
Rural voters will decide what issues are most important to them. But if Republican candidates feel like the next election is a replay of ’04, expect a lot of talk about the sanctity of the family and less about bolstering rural hospitals.