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Poll: Bush Gaining Ground with Rural Voters

President Bush is regaining key support in rural counties in 17 battleground states, according to a new rural tracking poll commissioned by the non-partisan Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky.

As NPR's Howard Berkes reports, the survey of 536 likely rural voters, conducted Sept. 9-Sept. 11, finds that Bush's lead in the rural battleground has gone from 9 percentage points in June to 13 percentage points now. Bush is favored by 55 percent of the people polled in a head-to-head match up with democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry, who received 42 percent.

The gains are greatest in tightly contested Midwestern states considered critical for victory in November. "The rural vote will continue to be the margin of difference in the most closely contested states in the country," says Bill Greener of Greener and Hook, a Republican political consulting firm. "The suburban vote will be strongly Republican. And I think the urban vote will be strongly Democrat. And then what is left and up for grabs would be the rural vote."

The big news in the last rural tracking poll, in June, was the margin of the president's lead. It was significantly lower than the actual 2000 presidential vote of the people responding to the poll. That indicated a softening of support for Bush and an opportunity for Kerry.

The new survey finds Kerry's support has risen slightly, especially among Democrats. Kerry is supported by 87 percent of the Democratic respondents to the poll. But that is considered "serious underperformance" by Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic firm that conducted the poll.

"I think one of the reasons Kerry is performing less well in these rural areas and Bush is performing better has been a shift toward cultural issues," Greenberg adds. "The whole debate about Vietnam. The debate about security and his fitness for leadership as commander-in-chief has really changed the terms of debate in the rural areas. I think we need a shift back to a discussion of Iraq and back to a discussion of the economy for Kerry to do better in these rural battleground states."

President Bush is favored by 98 percent of the rural Republicans responding to the poll, which Greenberg characterizes as "an overwhelming number."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.