Voters across Middle America who consider agricultural policy and rural issues high priorities have been largely invisible in this year’s presidential campaigns, says Dr. David Flynn, chairman of the economics department at the University of North Dakota.
We’re hearing far too little about issues affecting agriculture and rural economies, Flynn said during an interview with AgriTalk Radio’s Mike Adams on Tuesday. These issues are of critical importance to the entire country, he says, but are overlooked as both campaigns focus on regions and demographics where they believe the most votes are up for grabs.
The candidates, he says, have an opportunity to make ag issues relevant to all voters by, for example, discussing them in the context of energy policy. Both campaigns discuss the energy sector as a job creator, but do not mention the role of agriculture in energy policy.
“They talk about Main Street, but Main Street where?” he says, adding that it seems the debate focuses on urban areas rather than small towns. When the candidates do show up to speak in small towns and state fairs in Middle America, they tend to resort to talking points regarding the importance of farming and rural life. But on the national stage, “it’s like they think rural America doesn’t watch television.”
Flynn says he isn’t a farmer, but if he were, he’d feel terribly insulted by the way the campaigns pay lip-service to rural issues when speaking to rural audiences, then leave those issues out of the national debate.
The failure of Congress to pass a farm bill is particularly frustrating to rural voters, Flynn says, and neither candidate is discussing it, either in their plans for cutting spending or for stimulating economic growth and employment. Campaign literature from both campaigns is dramatically lacking in policy statements regarding agriculture or rural issues.
Flynn acknowledges that the campaigns probably see the rural vote in some states as either locked up, a lost cause or largely irrelevant compared with urban populations in terms of winning a state’s electoral votes. But, he believes there are groups of independent, undecided voters for whom ag and rural issues are important, left unrepresented by either candidate.
This silent treatment occurs in spite of the contribution agriculture to the U.S. economy. Consistent, steady and stable growth in agricultural income has been outpacing growth in non-farm income for several years. The candidates, Flynn says, should be pointing to agriculture as a success story, and looking at how to replicate that performance in other sectors of the economy.