HomePoliticsAmerican farmers are turning to Biden over Trump's past agricultural policies

American farmers are turning to Biden over Trump’s past agricultural policies

For twenty years, Christopher Gibbs, a farmer and rancher in Shelby County, Ohio, was a staunch Republican party member.

He served as chairman of his county’s Republican Party chapter for seven years, and when Donald Trump became the party’s presidential nominee in 2016, Gibbs, like more than 80% of Shelby County voters, fell in line.

But in 2018, everything changed.

Watching Trump stand next to Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki, where the president joined his Russian counterpart in siding with U.S. law enforcement agencies that had indicted Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, Gibbs was stunned.

Then, not long after, Trump initiated trade tariffs against many of the US’s international allies.

“Our allies retaliated by going after our soft underbelly: our agriculture,” Gibbs says. “When China retaliated by no longer taking our soybeans, I lost 20% of the value of my crop overnight.”

Gibbs is among a small but perhaps growing group of American farmers who fear that Trump’s threats of renewed trade wars and deportations of immigrants could ruin their businesses if he were to prevail in November’s presidential election.

Today, Gibbs is a staunch member of the Democratic party, even becoming chairman of his county’s chapter last year.

“In the Democratic party, not everyone gets their way, but everyone gets a vote,” Gibbs says. “There is only one voice in the Republican Party.”

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Debates raged in key agricultural states like Iowa about how another Trump presidency could cost farmers dearly. During Trump’s previous tariff campaign, which began in 2018, many farmers in Michigan, an election swing state, protested the former president’s actions.

At the time, the Trump administration sought to ease the financial pain it inflicted on the farming community and ensure farmers continued to vote for him by paying out $52 billion in subsidies in 2020 alone.

During his campaign this year, Trump falsely claimed that $28 billion had been taken from China, when in fact the direct payments to farmers came through US government taxpayer dollars.

While Joe Biden remains unpopular with farmers — Gibbs is among just 12% of American farmers who typically vote for Democratic Party candidates — results from a host of 2022 midterm races suggest that at the state and local level, support for candidates for the Democratic Party in Rural America can recover.

Moderate Democrats in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona, as well as Gibbs’ Ohio, outperformed Biden’s numbers by as much as 15% for the 2020 presidential election, according to analysis from Third Way, a pro-Democratic party think tank.

Research shows that under the Biden administration, farm incomes have increased significantly, largely due to government support and a post-pandemic surge in demand for agricultural products. Moreover, polls show that a large number of rural Americans could vote for third-party or write-in candidates in November, a prospect that would hurt Trump more than Biden.

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Gibbs isn’t alone.

Steve Held, whose family has farmed in eastern Montana since the 1800s, says he has always considered himself an independent and has voted for Republican and Democratic candidates in state and presidential elections throughout his life.

However, in recent years his worldview has changed.

“There was only one tornado [in Montana] that I was once aware of growing up. Recently there were several in one day,” he says. “[Climate change] is real, and people see it, but the propaganda makes them unwilling to admit the truth.”

This year, Held ran as a Democrat for a seat in eastern Montana and finished second in a June 4 primary.

“The dysfunction in the Republican Party is now beyond what it appeared to be. Our current representative [Republican Matt Rosendale] would not sign the proposed farm bill, which … supports programs so families can earn a living on Montana farms and ranches.”

As a former actor, Hel entered politics in large part because of the climate crisis. “I sat in rooms full of people who said they had voted Republican all their lives, but they were going to vote for me,” Held says.

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Still, Trump and other Republican candidates are expected to easily win rural counties in a series of elections in November, and the challenges Democrats face in rural America remain significant.

“Farmers and rural Americans are values ​​voters,” said Gibbs, who remembers losing about 80% of his friends and colleagues after speaking out against Trump. “They will continue to vote against their own interests, especially in agriculture, because it is Republicans who are speaking against their value systems.”

He says Democrats have allowed themselves to be redefined as something inconsistent with Midwestern norms and values, such as universal support for abortion, when “that is never what they are for.”

According to Gibbs, the Democratic party could gain ground among farmers and rural Americans, but that would require a recalculation. “The progressive left has had the microphone for too long,” he says.

He says he doesn’t expect much change in who farmers and rural Americans will vote for in the November election, but that isn’t his main focus. He sees an opportunity for change in the future.

“What we are doing here now,” he adds, “is building [elections in] 2028, 2032.”

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