ALBIA, IA – Focus on Rural America is a newly formed nonprofit organization aimed at boosting progressive causes and organizations by developing and promoting economic messages that resonate in rural America. In their initial research, released publicly today, the organization conducted focus groups with rural Iowans who voted for President Trump in 2016 after supporting President Obama’s reelection in 2012.

“In recent years there has been a massive shift in how rural Americans participate in the electoral process,” said Focus on Rural America advisor Sam Roecker. “The goal of Focus on Rural America is to investigate this shift, engage rural communities in a discussion about the issues that motivate them, and develop a positive progressive message that will resonate in rural America.”

“As a lifelong Iowan and someone who has spent decades traveling to every corner of the state, I’ve witnessed firsthand that the progressive messages that we’re using today aren’t resonating,” said Focus on Rural America Chair Patty Judge. “It’s time to take a serious look at this issue and develop economic messages and policies that will have a real impact in rural parts of our state.”

The shifting civic attitudes of Iowans is evident through a comparison of 2008, 2012, and 2016 election results. While presidential election outcomes were largely consistent through these years in communities like Ankeny, Marion, and Bettendorf, there was a steep drop in support for progressive candidates in rural communities like Burlington and Knoxville.

To begin investigating this shift, Focus on Rural America recently sponsored a number of focus groups with rural Iowans who voted for both President Obama in 2012 and President Trump in 2016. This initial round of research revealed the following key findings:

These voters reconciled supporting Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 because they viewed both as a break from the status quo. Some even drew favorable comparisons between Obama and Trump, including that both were not career politicians and both appeared to prioritize the best interests of the people.

Obama/Trump voters had a much harder time explaining Clinton’s 2016 campaign message than they did for Trump’s. While they generally felt that Clinton would fight to maintain Obama’s policies and would focus on women and families. With Trump, voters were able to clearly list Trump’s goals, including shaking up the status quo in Washington.

Obama/Trump voters raised concerns with Democrats’ stance on social policies and focus on entitlements and social programs. They identified what they perceived as liberal social policies that in their opinions went “too far.”  Additionally, even though these voters want to help those in need and provide those who have lost jobs with a means of getting back on their feet, there is also a belief that Democrats in general may have begun to focus too much on entitlements and social programs. There is also some sentiment that Democrats are only focused on minorities and interest groups and not focused on “everyday Joes.”

Obama/Trump voters do not feel that either major political party is really fighting for them or putting their interests first. For the most part, voters say that neither party is directly addressing their lifestyle. Both parties are more concerned with fighting each other and not with the interest of Iowans.

Obama/Trump voters know relatively little about Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. They say their support in the 2018 Governor’s race depends who the Democratic opponent is and how Reynolds does from the time she takes office until the election in 2018.

Obama/Trump voters show concern over key legislation from the 2017 session.

  • Focus group participants expressed concern over changes to collective bargaining rights and feel that unions are a mostly positive force for working families in Iowa.
  • Most also expressed concern about changes to workers’ compensation laws. While they have some concerns about fraud, most believe that injured workers should have protections.
  • While more voters disagree with repealing local minimum wage requirements, some share concerns about the ability of small business to afford the increase.
  • While some approve of the Stand Your Ground provision, most are opposed to removing the renewal requirement for permits and many are opposed to allowing minors to carry guns.
  • There is widespread agreement that all Iowans should have access to clean drinking water.

To build on the initial findings, Focus on Rural America will continue to conduct quantitative and qualitative research across Iowa and begin traveling the state to engage community leaders.