Man wearing Built Trump Tough T-shirt Scott Olson/Staff/GettyImages
Guests attend a rally where President Donald Trump was speaking.

Trade dents farm support for Trump

Growers like some, but not all of the president’s policies.

Strong support from agriculture helped propel Donald Trump to the White House in 2016. Nearly two years later farmers applaud many of the president’s policies. But questions about controversial trade disputes have some wondering whether they’d vote for Trump today.

A new Farm Futures survey shows 60% of farmers would vote for the president if the election were held today. That’s down from the 75% support Trump received from growers in the 2016 election. While 24% said they would not vote for reelection, 17% were unsure. Only 78% of those who voted for the president in 2016 said they would still vote for him today. Not surprisingly, none of the growers surveyed who voted for Hillary Clinton would switch sides today.

Trade seems to be the sticking point for the president’s wavering supporters because most farmers give Trump high marks in other areas. For example, 86% said Trump’s move to reduce regulation is good for their farm. Even 42% of Clinton voters backed the president on that effort.

But only 8% of all growers voiced support for the president’s statement that “trade wars are good and easy to win,” with 40% believing “President Trump's actions on trade have done permanent damage to agriculture.” Only 14% said tariffs will be good for their farm’s profits.

Agriculture appears divided by some of the same partisan fault lines highlighted by Trump’s presidency on issues likely to be front and center during this fall’s mid-term elections. Immigration is an important concern for Trump voters. But 90% of Trump voters supported the president’s actions, while 94% of Clinton voters opposed them. Trump voters also see the budget deficit and economy as leading issues, while Clinton supporters ranked health care and income inequality higher.

Some issues faded as concerns compared to results from our August 2016 survey before the last election. The Supreme Court was a leading issue two years ago. But with Trump’s two picks likely to cement a conservative majority, both sides appear to have moved on to other debates. And terrorism nearly vanished as a leading concern.

Trade replaced those issues on the minds of farmers. Only 3% of those surveyed in 2017 said foreign trade was the leading issue in the election. Now, 13% are most concerned about it headed into the mid-terms.

While USDA has promised assistance to help farmers weather an estimated $12 billion in losses, anxiety about financial pressure appears to be growing. And it’s one issue that doesn’t divide Republican and Democratic farmers surveyed. Half of both Clinton and Trump voters said they worried about whether they would be able to pay back debt. That’s the highest reading on that concern since we started asking about it six years ago and is up 6% from our March survey.

Younger farmers with higher debt loads are under the most strain. Millennial farmers born after 1980 were the least likely to have voted for Trump, and 12% said they did not vote in the 2016 election. Older producers, especially those born before 1945, tend to borrow less and are better able to withstand market volatility. These farmers were Trump’s biggest backers 2016. But their support for the president matched the erosion from Millennials, falling 20%.

Despite these challenges, it’s too early to write off the president’s chances yet. More than 90% of Trump voters said they were willing to give him time to work out better trade deals. And 84% believe their farm will be better off under President Trump in the long run despite the short-term pain caused by tariffs.

Farmers generally are reliable Republican voters on average and party preference closely matched voting patterns in 2016. Only 10% of farmers say they’re Democrats or lean toward that party, while 75% identify as Republicans. The other 15% say they are independents.

Farm Futures surveyed 924 growers July 20 to August 2. Farmers were invited by email to fill out on on-line questionnaire.

 

 

What farmers are saying

We asked farmers what they would say in a letter to President Trump. Here’s are word clouds of what growers said, broken down between those who voted for Trump and those who backed Clinton. The difference of opinion is clear.

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