Trump’s policies have been devastating for his most loyal supporters:
At the same time, the assault on the safety net is especially harmful to rural America, which relies heavily on safety-net programs. Of the 100 counties with the highest percentage of their population receiving food stamps, 85 are rural, and most of the rest are in small metropolitan areas. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Trump keeps trying to kill, had its biggest positive impact on rural areas.
And these programs are crucial to rural Americans even if they don’t personally receive government aid. Safety-net programs bring purchasing power, which helps create rural jobs. Medicaid is also a key factor keeping rural hospitals alive; without it, access to health care would be severely curtailed for rural Americans in general.
What about protectionism? The U.S. farm sector is hugely dependent on access to world markets, much more so than the economy as a whole. American soybean growers export half of what they produce; wheat farmers export 46 percent of their crop. China, in particular, has become a key market for U.S. farm products. That’s why Trump’s recent rage-tweeting over trade, which raised the prospect of an expanded trade war, sent grain markets to a 42-year low.
It’s important to realize, by the way, that the threat to farmers isn’t just about possible foreign retaliation to Trump’s tariffs. One fundamental principle in international economics is that in the long run, taxes on imports end up being taxes on exports as well, usually because they lead to a higher dollar. If the world descends into trade war, U.S. imports and exports will both shrink — and farmers, among our most important exporters, will be the biggest losers.
Why, then, do rural areas support Trump? A lot of it has to do with cultural factors. In particular, rural voters are far more hostile to immigrants than urban voters — especially in communities where there are few immigrants to be found. Lack of familiarity apparently breeds contempt.
It sure will be inexplicable when the “economic anxiety” of rural voters results in overwhelming support for the incumbent party that has made their economic situation much more dire in 2020.