RuralOrganizing.org compiled this resource to ensure progressive civic leaders have access to the latest public opinion research and field best practices for engaging voters in small towns and rural communities. This resource is not intended to replace our colleagues' amazing library of campaign resources but rather focus on the rural elements of campaigns that often get overlooked.
We believe every rural organizer, civic leader, and community group should have access to our extensive research, polling, and messaging toplines to run strategic and winning campaigns in your small towns and rural communities. We've pulled together our best public opinion research and recommendations as to how to engage rural voters in your community.
Download this resource to learn how to:
Run locally informed campaigns and incorporate *free* data into your platforms
Integrate high-visibility tactics into your campaign
Prioritize and incorporate online security practices
If you're running a campaign in a rural area, RuralOrganizng.org seeks to be a resource. If you'd like to set up a 1:1 or request a presentation, please email our campaigns team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do progressives win again in rural communities? Why have we struggled to break through? What does it look like to meaningfully engage rural voters and gain support for our candidates? In this report, RuralOrganizing.org provides findings, insights, and recommendations for progressives working to rebuild power outside major metropolitan areas.
Our extensive public opinion research confirms that rural people are no strangers to bold actions and big ideas. They know a corporate agenda in Washington, DC is holding their communities back, and strongly believe the rural way of life is worth fighting for—because small town folks look out for each other.
Our research shows that progressives don’t struggle in rural America because of our policy agenda. It’s pervasive stereotypes that keep us falling short—both progressive stereotypes about rural people and rural people’s stereotypes about progressives. Over the last two decades, many progressives became convinced that most rural people opposed their agenda of justice, equality, and solidarity, while many rural people became convinced that progressives are coastal elitists who care only for urban flourishing and want to fundamentally change their rural way of life.
These stereotypes are promoted heavily through right-wing media, and because many progressives aren’t present in rural communities to counter these stereotypes through everyday interactions, this false narrative has been allowed to continue.
To make matters worse, Democratic political consultants often respond to this dynamic with a communications strategy rooted in their own stereotypes about rural voters. So, rather than putting effort into understanding and addressing the real and legitimate concerns these voters face, many Democrats focus on trying to just “blend in.” This approach perpetuates the rural perception that “all the politicians are the same,” and the result is rural voters don’t actually see a local alternative to the Republican Party.
In this report, we provide concrete and specific recommendations for progressives looking to engage voters in small towns and rural areas.
In order to win again in small towns and rural areas, we progressives must:
Address the distrust and stereotypes that are preventing authentic engagement.
Build power and leadership locally using community care values-based framing.
Develop a bold progressive policy vision rooted in rural prosperity.
"We're being told that buses are en route from [out of town] for today's march downtown, businesses - please bring in any furniture, signs, etc. that could possibly be thrown through windows. Let's keep our city safe and peaceful!”
If so, then it’s likely that your community has been targeted by an active white nationalist online misinformation campaign. Using Facebook and other social media outlets, white nationalists are working quickly to disrupt the progress of racial justice in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
Starting on May 30, 2020, the RuralOrganizing.org network began hearing the same rumor mentioning out-of-town “antifa” rioters bussing into various regions across the country. This guide was written with the help of dozens of leaders from across the country in response to those rumors. Our goal was to create a resource to help community leaders fight misinformation online.
RuralOrganizing.org is working to provide toolkits and resources for agricultural community leaders responding to crisis situations, like COVID outbreaks. This is a brief overview of crisis response planning and crisis communications response strategies for organizational and community leaders.
Between March 26–29, 2020, RuralOrganizing.org commissioned a nationwide poll to gauge public opinion on issues of critical importance to all voters. In keeping with our mission and in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of rural voters, the research included an oversample of voters living in counties designated as rural, according to the USDA rural urban continuum codes. In our analysis, we refer to these voters as “non-metro.”
Change Research conducted the Dynamic Online Sampling nationwide poll. In total, 1,213 interviews were collected to achieve a sample reflective of registered voters. The margin of error as traditionally calculated is 2.8%, and post-stratification was performed on age, gender, race/ethnicity, geography, and vote history.
This toolkit s is a blueprint for a campaign that uses yard signs to engage rural progressive base voters, and help grassroots organizers identify the most vocal supporters in rural communities for issue-based or electoral campaigns. This toolkit was created based on our field experiment organizing in 45 rural Kentucky precincts during the 2019 governor's race. Even though many of the organizations in our network run campaigns on a smaller scale with smaller budgets, with this toolkit, we’ll show you how to integrate our findings and ideas from our 2019 campaign to fit your needs.
Surprisingly, political yard signage is an understudied tactic in political campaigns. For generations, political yard signs have been a staple in political campaigns at local, state, and national levels. However, substantive research on their efficacy is almost impossible to find. “Yard signs don’t vote” is a statement heard by almost every rural organizer working with beltway consultants. And as Sasha Issenberg wrote in 2012, it has become “fashionable to dismiss the lawn sign as overrated, a vestige of old-style campaigns that may raise spirits but not vote totals.”
In small towns and rural communities, where social ties and kinship networks are often constituted much more densely than in urban and suburban areas, a key knowledge gap exists regarding the efficacy of yard signage in political races. Recent studies conclude that the impact of yard signs is greater than zero, but they’re unlikely to be large enough to alter the outcome of a race that would otherwise be decided by more than a few percentage points. However, this research was conducted in upstate New York, Fairfax County, Virginia, and Cumberland County, Pennsylvania—all urban and suburban areas—and failed to examine the impacts of signage in small towns and rural communities.
President Donald Trump’s $4.8 trillion 2021 federal budget proposes steep cuts to programs that are critical to small towns and rural communities. It’s full of bad ideas and broken promises for rural America.
Today, small towns and rural communities are seeing a dramatic increase in catastrophic weather events like flooding and forest fires, and many of these same communities have been forced to carrying the economic burden of Trump's failed trade war.
These communities need the Federal Government on their side like never before. However, instead of standing with rural America during these challenging times, President Trump is calling for a $21.8 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $239 billion cut to the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill – a 28% reduction.
In short, President Trump's proposed 2021 federal budget:
Eliminates job-creating rural business investments
Underfunds critical medical services like rural opioid programs
Cuts critical services for rural Americans, like SNAP (food stamps) and local food initiatives
Eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, which provides flexible funding to states for child and senior care, day programs for people with disabilities, and services for homeless individuals and families
President Trump’s proposed budget favors big corporations at the expense of the small farms and the small businesses that are the bedrock of rural economies. Recently, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Wisconsin dairy farmers that, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.” The administration’s preference for big agricultural over small farms is reflected through the budget priorities.
The Trump administration’s “get big or get out” philosophy also applies to small businesses. President Trump considers the USDA programs that provide funding opportunities for rural small businesses through loans, loan guarantees, and grants to be an “unnecessary and wasteful program.” His proposed budget cuts the Rural Business and Cooperative Program by 97% all but ending programs to help grow rural businesses and provide job training for people living in rural areas
Rural people support federal government programs aimed at improving people’s lives, but Trump is proposing an 8 percent cut in funding to USDA, the Education Department, and the Energy Department. These agencies provide critical programs that support the rural way of life.
… and broken promises.
Trump said he would “negotiate trade deals to help our farmers.” As we all know by now, his “trade war” has been a complete an utter disaster. And when Trump said he was bailing out farmers suffering devastating losses due to his failed trade deal, a Brazilian-owned company received $67 million in bailout funds.
Now, Trump is proposing a budget that forces farmers to, once again, fend for themselves by cutting $57.7 billion in mandatory agricultural spending by 2030. This includes lowering crop insurance subsidies, and tightening eligibility for farm payments and slashing conservation programs. These cuts are especially harmful to farmers who dealt with one of the worst weather years in history. This is not the time to cut conservation spending.
President Donald Trump posted a tweet promising that, “We will not be touching your Social Security and Medicare in Fiscal 2021 Budget.” However, Trump’s budget includes destructive changes to Medicaid, SNAP, Social Security, and other assistance programs critical for small town and rural Americans. These cuts disproportionately impact the communities that need the support now more than ever.
Looking to build common ground in your community? RuralOrganizing.org recently released a conversation guide for over coming division-based politics.
This guide was written with the help of dozens of leaders from across the country. Our goal was to create a resource to further civic dialogue among elected officials and their constituents in small towns and rural communities. Inside our guide, you’ll find a set of key messages aimed at rural voters based on our internal polling and external, publicly available resources. We know rural voters are looking to elect leaders who will fight for the “small town and rural way of life” and our hope is that this guide will help keep the civic debate focused on improving the lives of rural people. However, we also provide advice for authentic conversations about two issues often used by politicians to divide rural voters for political purposes. If you have questions about this document, please email us at email@example.com.
Please note that the following agenda is a rough-draft proposal and we'd love to hear your feedback on it. You can submit your feedback on the following agenda by clicking here.
Small towns and rural communities are vital contributors to our national political and civic life, and we, demand more from candidates seeking elected office in 2020.
We believe that the small town way of life is worth fighting for and that no one should have to choose between leaving their hometown and providing their family with opportunity, healthcare, and financial security.
We see how Wall Street and agribusiness monopolies are rigging the system in rural communities, and as a result, wages have stagnated, well paying jobs are harder to come by, and access to higher education and technical training programs as well as quality healthcare are increasingly scarce.
We are supporting candidates who promote policies that ensure resilient, safe, and welcoming small towns and rural communities for generations to come.
These candidates will:
have specific plans to increase wages in rural America
have specific plans to decrease daily expenses that keep too many rural families living paycheck to
fight to defend the rural way
OUR 2020 RURAL AGENDA
1. INCREASE WAGES FOR RURAL AMERICANS
PRIORITIZE SMALL, LOCAL BUSINESSES
Make it easier to start or run a small business or family farm through increased capital and credit availability targeting rural small business startups and family farms
Break up rural agricultural monopolies that suppress wages and take rural agricultural revenues out of the community only to benefit Wall Street corporate shareholders
Increase small business tax incentives and build support systems for rural entrepreneurs
Leverage tax dollars for rural development over corporate, extractive agriculture subsidies
INCENTIVIZE AMERICAN CONSTRUCTION AND MANUFACTURING
Increase high paying manufacturing, construction, “trade” jobs (that pay 40-50k+) through the use of tax incentives, credits, and abatements for domestic manufacturing of green/renewable energy infrastructure
Invest in just and rapid transitions to renewable energy and biofuels
Pass a long-term spending plan to repair and rebuild national infrastructure
FIGHT FOR RURAL WORKERS
Provide realistic transition plans, workforce and continuing education training, and job placement services for people living in former factory towns and coal and other extractive communities
Raise the minimum wage
Ensure rural Americans can fully participate in the labor market by offering universal free community and technical college
Eliminate the gender pay gap
Protect veteran job benefits
Ensure immigrant farm workers have access to citizenship so they can fully participate in their communities and the economy
REDUCE THE COST OF HEALTH, CHILD, AND ELDERLY CARE
Fight to keep rural hospitals and nursing homes open
Expand Medicare to cover all Americans
Create a healthcare safety net for farmers and small business owners
Promote and fund technologies that expand small town access to health care service providers
Support and expand clinics and community health centers in rural areas
Incentivize high skilled doctors and nurses to live and work in rural communities
Expand CMS reimbursement and access to Durable Medical Equipment (DME)
EXPAND ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Increase funding for the Section 515 Rural Rental Housing program
Reject and reverse cuts to USDA Rural Development programs
Increase access to mortgage credit in rural communities
Support programs to build quality farm labor housing
Back critical programs like HOME Investment Partnerships and Community Development Block Grants
INCREASE INVESTMENTS IN TRANSPORTATION AND CONNECTIVITY
Expand access to public transportation in small towns and rural communities
Accelerate efforts to create affordable, distributed renewable and carbon-neutral energy sources
Ensure all rural residents have access to affordable high speed internet and emerging 5G technologies
Support increased funding for rail transportation improvement and access
3. DEFEND AND IMPROVE THE RURAL WAY OF LIFE
PROMOTE RESILIENT, SAFE, AND WELCOMING SMALL TOWNS AND RURAL COMMUNITIES
Protect and grow vital services like grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies, and clinics
Prevent privatization of post offices and ensure every small town has postal service
Ensure all rural residents - regardless of age, color, national origin, citizenship status, physical or mental disability, race, religion, creed, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, and status as a disabled veteran - are protected from discrimination by federal, state, or local policies
Further advance ideals of inclusive citizenship that encourage voter participation among all community members and limit the influence of money in politics
Support funding for rural fire protection and law enforcement and ensure all residents have equitable access to their protective services
INVEST IN RURAL EDUCATION
Give kids a head start and support working families by passing universal and free Pre-K
Make community and technical college free for local residents
Stop school consolidation in small towns and rural communities
PROMOTE OUTDOOR RECREATION AND PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
Support smart wildlife and hunting management and natural resource conservation policies
Protect public lands
Protect rural water from industry and agricultural waste
Ensure local towns and municipalities receive tax revenues for hosting both extractive and renewable energy development
Use the power of the publicly owned institutions, land grant universities, extension services, FSA, etc. to implement regenerative agricultural practices