Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has just released a very useful analysis of the rural vote in 2004, along with a chartpack of interesting graphs on the rural vote. Here is their summary of the memo’s major findings:
Rural America emerged as one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in the election. Both campaigns invested millions of dollars courting these voters, investing heavily in television and field outreach program. Kerry did not cede this vote any more than the Bush campaign took it for granted.
The final outcome in 2004 masks an often competitive political environment in rural America. Not only did Democrats closely contest the rural vote in recent elections (1992 and 1996), but even in 2004, the rural vote ebbed and flowed with the vagaries of the campaign, from Saddam’s capture to the debates. Only in the end did the Bush team salt away its win in rural America.
George Bush prevailed by successfully framing this election as a referendum on values and security. By moving the economy to the political back-burner and amplifying the disconnect between the perceived values of the Democratic nominee and the conservative, cultural values of the rural electorate, Bush improved upon his 2000 margin in rural parts of the country.
At the same time, rural voters signaled significant frustration with the economic course of the country. That Kerry could not capitalize on this frustration speaks to the power of values in shaping this vote, but more fundamentally, also to a missed opportunity among Democrats to speak to the populist anger of this vote in a disciplined and credible fashion.