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Small-Town Ohio Leaders Highlight What They’d Like To Hear from President Joe Biden Ahead of His Trip to Licking County

New data shows daily expenses and neighborhood livability top the list of issues for small towns and rural voters surveyed by RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund, the Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty, Indivisible Appalachian Ohio, and the Newark Think Tank on Poverty

On the eve of President Biden’s visit to Licking County, Ohio, new survey data provides valuable insights into the top issues for small-town and rural voters across central and southeastern Ohio.

Today, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund, Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty, Indivisible Appalachian Ohio, and Newark Think Tank on Poverty released the results of the first-ever Local Progress Report survey, a deep dive into local public opinion in high-need, low-civic engagement neighborhoods across three rural battleground counties. 

The survey collected responses from 1,106 households, blending door knocking and community-based research to obtain detailed insights into neighborhood needs and opinions. 

The results show that reducing daily expenses and improving local quality of life, particularly by addressing the addiction epidemic and investing in local housing, infrastructure, and public services are the top concerns.

The results of the survey are available here.

Here is a breakdown of the top five issues in each survey: 

Athens Census Tracts 9726 & 9735

(n=501)

  1. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  2. Reducing food and grocery costs

  3. Reducing the use and sale of illegal drugs in my neighborhood

  4. Repair local roads and bridges

  5. Reducing utility costs

Fairfield Census Tract 317

(n=248)

  1. Reducing food and grocery costs

  2. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  3. Improving affordable housing options

  4. Improving veterans services

  5. Improving mental health services

Licking Census Tracts 7590 & 7525 within Newark city limits (n=331)

  1. Reducing food and grocery costs

  2. Reducing the use and sale of illegal drugs in the neighborhood

  3. Reducing theft in the neighborhood

  4. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  5. Cleaning up polluted areas

The following is a statement from Brent Edwards, Ohio Statewide Organizer with RuralOrganizing.org

The three local progress groups in Athens, Fairfield, and Licking Counties have been working tirelessly to facilitate transformative conversations about the issues that matter most to their communities. This dataset will be an invaluable resource for candidates, elected officials and other leaders who seek to understand the lived experiences of rural Ohioans. As seen so far in the 2022 cycle, candidates with a bold, progressive rural agenda can set themselves apart from the tired stereotypes of what it means to be a Democrat. President Biden and Democrats in Congress have done more to address the rising cost of living in small-town Ohio in the past 20 months than we’ve seen in decades. The President should acknowledge that. 

The following is a statement from Ella Zimmerly of Indivisible Appalachian Ohio based in Athens County, Ohio:

“Doing door-to-door surveying in Athens County, the poorest county in Ohio by median income, has been 100% eye-opening. Exploring our neighborhoods, finding homes, meeting the people, hearing their stories, collecting their survey answers is all a wealth of information. What can we do with it? What can politicians do to help the people whose homes are next to vacant, run-down buildings or drug houses? There are parks, sidewalks going in, and I witnessed some road repair. Is that enough? There are other, more rural areas with poor cell phone reception and internet coverage. What about them? Will politicians do enough? What can we do together? We need a solution.”

The following is a statement from Al DiLorenzo of the Newark Think Tank on Poverty based in Licking County, Ohio:

“It's really, really bold to do what we're doing. I’m having a lot of positive feedback from the groups who are feeling like they're making a difference. What we're doing is important. In the greater context of collecting this data, it isn't just about the doorstep. It is important at the door, but there will be more that comes from this.”

The following is a statement from Phoebe Sampson of the Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty based in Fairfield County, Ohio:

“I've had many conversations with people in this area who do not think the same way as me but people know that they're mad at something. It's just misdirected anger. And I think it is very much a conversation about policies and not people because the political spectrum has become very much like a sporting event where sides are pitted against one another. And then when you actually start talking to people who would say they are straight down the line Republican, their opinions reflect empathy for people.”

The following is a statement from Michelle Novak, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund Ohio Strategist based in Butler County, Ohio: 

“This project provides validation of what many of us have been experiencing across Ohio’s small towns and rural communities. Local conversations are not about having access to new jobs but the struggle to keep up with rising food costs, the livability of our communities, and access to affordable housing. The Local Progress Survey results show that this is not just unique to the experience of my own blue-collar community in Butler County but is something experienced across rural Ohio. Rural Ohioan’s have been ravaged by a decades-long heroin epidemic, harmful cycles of generational poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and now rising grocery and housing costs. To ignore these very real concerns will only reinforce the continued isolation and disconnect rural communities feel from national leadership. Not speaking to this experience will be a missed opportunity to engage Ohio’s rural communities.

The following is a statement from Annie Contractor, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund Policy Research Analyst: 

As far as we can tell, this is the first time that community-based research and civic engagement canvassing have been combined in this manner. Compared to conventional polling, our model is more equitable and the targeting is more granular because we are working on such a hyper-local scale. Compared to political canvassing, our conversations are more relational and less coercive since we are using our surveys to compile local policy agendas, not impose them. And compared to both big deep canvass operations and major polls, the funding, the skills, and the findings stay with the neighborhoods. 

 The mission of RuralOrganizing.org is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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