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With Trade War, Farmer Support for Trump Erodes Sharply

One in seven farmers who voted for President Trump in 2016 would not vote for him today, according to a poll released on Monday. The escalating trade war was the leading cause of erosion for Trump among a staunchly Republican group. But a majority still back him: 60% would vote for him now vs. 75% in 2016.

Support for Trump in farm country generally mirrors party affiliation, according to Farm Futures, which polled 924 farmers from July 20 through August 2. Three fourths of farmers identify themselves as Republicans and 10% say they are Democrats. That’s roughly the same as the 75-11 split in the farm vote between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The remaining 14% voted for third-party candidates or did not vote in 2016.

Now, 60% say they would vote for Trump and 24% would not when asked, “If the presidential election was held today, would you vote for President Trump?” The rest were undecided.

The decline in support for Trump appeared to be concentrated among Republicans. No one who backed Clinton in 2016 would switch sides today, according to the poll.

“Trade seems to be the sticking point for the president’s wavering supporters, because most farmers give Trump high marks in other areas,” said Farm Futures. Growers overwhelmingly support the president on regulatory relief and immigration, but two thirds agreed with the statement, “President Trump has not done enough to support the biofuels industry.”

Trump ran on a platform of tax cuts, regulatory relief, and support for corn ethanol, a heady mixture in rural areas. He rolled up landslide margins in rural America, key to his election, despite Farm Belt concern about his promises to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA. Farm groups and ethanol makers repeatedly fought EPA since Trump took office over proposals to weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Large majorities of farmers said they were willing to give Trump more time to work out trade deals. They believe that tariffs may hurt in the short term “but my farm will be better off under President Trump in the long run.” At the same time, 40% said Trump’s actions on trade have permanently damaged agriculture.

Exports generate 20% of farm income, so farmers pay attention to trade disruptions. Since the late 1970s, exports have been regarded as a path for farm prosperity. Economist Dave Widmar said farm income could fall to “levels last observed during the farm financial crisis of the 1980s” without the agricultural aid of up to $12 billion proposed by the administration. “Net farm income slipping below $50 billion would have sent major concerns throughout the farm economy,” wrote Widmar at the Agricultural Economic Insights blog.

“Beyond 2018, one has to wonder what happens if trade relations don’t improve,” said Widmar. “Lower income would likely trigger additional adjustments in farm capital purchases, cash rental rates, and farmland values.”

The Trump tariffs are adding to Republican heartburn in the Heartland and are one of the reasons Democrats are likely to win control of the House in the midterm elections, a political analyst told the International Sugar Symposium, according to The Hagstrom Report. If commodity prices remain subdued, voters will be less forgiving of Republican incumbents, said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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