The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently commissioned a survey of 900 voters in Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas to assess their attitudes toward USDA programs.

Voters in the tree states expressed the following views concerning potential cuts and changes in the United States  Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its farm subsidy programs.

A strong bi-partisan majority oppose any cuts in USDA jobs programs, nutrition programs, and programs to protect land and water.

Nearly two-thirds of voters resist cuts in commodity subsidy programs (wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and cotton).

By more than a two-to-one margin (67 percent to 31 percent) voters in these states support limiting direct payments to single farms to no more than $250,000. 
Note:  Support was higher among households with farm income and Republicans than among voters as a whole.

Almost two-thirds of voters describe themselves as less likely to support a member of Congress who votes to cut jobs programs in rural communities, as well as environmental and nutrition programs.

In contrast, a majority of voters in each state describe themselves as more likely to support a member who supports limiting direct payments to single farms to no more than $250,000, and at least a third describe themselves as "much more likely" to support such a member.

Discontent in the Heartland
Voters in (as a whole) Iowa and Minnesota, and to a lesser degree, Kansas, betray a decidedly downcast mood in assessing the direction of the country.  Cuts that would affect the economic well-being of the farm community face strong, bi-partisan, resistance. Large differences emerge in how Republicans and Democrats view the direction of the country as only 27 percent of Republicans believe things are off on the wrong track, compared to 82 percent among Democrats.  Other key constituencies in these three states share the Democrats' point of view: 61 percent wrong track among Independents, 44 percent among farm income voters, 58 percent among rural voters, 58 percent among seniors.

USDA Cuts
Voters in all three states oppose cuts in USDA jobs programs, nutrition programs and programs to protect the land and water, often by convincing margins.  However, they support limiting direct payments to any single farm to no more than $250,000.  Notably, support for limits on single farm payments jumps to 68 percent among households with farm income, and to 70 percent among Republicans. 

In contrast, just 40 percent of farm income households and 40 percent of Republicans support cuts in nutrition programs.

Commodity Cuts
The same pattern emerges when we ask voters to assess commodity cuts.  Voters reject both across-the-board cuts in commodities and the elimination of some subsidy programs altogether.  However, as above, they support limiting payments to single farms.

Electoral impact
These decisions carry some electoral sting as well.  Nearly two-thirds of voters in the three states report they would be less likely to support a member of Congress who voted to cut jobs programs in rural communities, nutrition programs and environmental programs.   In contrast, a slim majority of voters are more likely to support a member who votes to limit payments to a single farm to $250,000, including 60 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of farm voters with farm income. 

Conclusion
Only rarely does survey data deliver as sharp and clear a message as is the case in this study.  Large bi-partisan majorities oppose cuts in USDA and commodity programs that underlie the economic well-being of the rural communities, specifically, cuts in nutrition programs, land and water programs and jobs programs.  Moreover, an appreciable number of voters in these states convey willingness to hold members of Congress accountable in the voting booth for supporting these cuts. In contrast, voters support limiting payments to single farms to $250,000. It would be wrong to conclude this is some sort of desire on the part of voters in these states to punish those associated with farming.  Again, the sentiment for limiting payments rises higher among farm income voters than among voters as a whole.  Instead, it would seem to be the case that in tight fiscal times, voters in these states believe it is time to draw a line as to what is and is not reasonable for the government to directly give to any single farm.