Republican Mitt Romney holds a 14 percentage-point lead over President Barack Obama among rural voters in nine swing states, according to the National Rural Assembly Poll released today.
The nonpartisan poll found that 54% of rural voters in these important swing states favored Romney; 40% said they would vote for Obama.
The poll surveyed 600 likely voters in nonmetropolitan counties in the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The survey was commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies for the National Rural Assembly. The poll was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The poll was designed and analyzed by Democrat Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies.
The size of the Romney lead points to a close election in November, Bolger said.
"The challenge for President [Obama] is just not to get beat too badly in the rural areas," he said. "This presages a very close election because, as well as Obama did in the rural areas in 2008, he's clearly not replicating that."
Democrat Greenberg agreed. "Rural areas in this country are very tough for President Obama," she said. "It was tough four years ago and they're even tougher now. I think that that is obviously important in a very close presidential race because it's really Mitt Romney's geographic base."
Obama narrowed the rural voter gap in 2008, contributing to his election. But four years later, Romney is leading President Obama by margins comparable to President George W. Bush's lead over John Kerry at a similar time in the 2004 campaign.
The poll asked rural residents who they thought would do a better job in handling a number of issues. In all cases but one, respondents said Romney would do a better job. On most issues, such as improving the economy, dealing with rural issues, and "sharing your values," Romney's lead was in double digits.
Rural voters think Romney will do a better job handling of immigration issues (49% for Romney versus 31% for Obama), although the poll found that immigration is not a partisan issue. In fact, half the respondents favored the Democratic position statement on immigration, while only 39% of respondents agreed with the Republican position.
"What we are seeing is that these rural voters are not particularly exorcised about immigration issues," said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies. "If you drill down you see they are conflicted. On one hand they want cops to be able to check immigrant papers, but at the same time they favor the Dream Act promise of full citizenship for all kids who go to college or serve in the military."
Seven out of 10 rural voters are in favor of laws like the one in Arizona that allows local law enforcement to check the papers of people they suspect of being illegal immigrants.
But these voters also favored providing undocumented immigrant children with legal residency status and a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of rural voters opposed changing the Constitution to eliminate citizenship for children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.
A similar number (63%) said immigration is good for the nation. And 59% said increased diversity is also a positive for the United States.
Click here to see the full survey results.