With Election Day arriving Tuesday, Maryland farmer Nolan Gallion is anything but an undecided voter.
On trade, the pandemic, grain prices and jobs, Gallion believes Donald Trump has made the right moves to earn a second term as president.
“He’s not a politician. He’s a businessman, like I am, like a lot of us around,” said Gallion, who raises grain and beef cattle in the small community of Level.
Many farmers are likely to join with Gallion in backing Trump over Democrat Joe Biden and third-party candidates.
Polls this summer placed his support at 75% or greater among ag producers. And during his time in office, Trump has offered farmers high praise and even higher federal funding.
Farmers aren’t a particularly large constituency, making up only 1% of the U.S. population. But they are key to the economy in rural areas, which helped propel Trump to victory four years ago.
Democrats have in no way given up on farmers, though. The party has put considerable effort into courting rural voters in swing states — like dairy-rich Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — that Trump won narrowly in 2016.
Biden has made much of his boyhood in blue-collar Scranton. He, Trump and surrogates from both campaigns have made numerous visits to Pennsylvania.
On a Monday rally at Lancaster Airport, Trump even gave a shout-out to the Amish, whom he called “incredible craftsmen” able to “throw up a barn in one or two days,” as LNP | LancasterOnline reported.
Biden has also released a plan for agriculture and rural communities that promises a renewed focus on ethanol, and bolstered access to broadband and hospital care.
“Improving the quality of life in rural America will help keep our small towns vibrant and attractive to more young people,” said Marshall Matz, former counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee and the 2008 chairman of the Obama Agriculture Committee.
The biggest agricultural complaint against Trump has been his trade policy. Democrats say the president’s trade wars have hurt farmers more than they have helped.
Denny Wolff, a former Pennsylvania ag secretary who still raises heifers, participated in World Trade Organization talks for the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. That experience convinced him that trade disputes are best handled with diplomatic negotiations rather than disruptive tariff tit-for-tats.
“There’s no question that this trade war is a self-inflicted crisis. It is not the way you solve anything,” Wolff said in an Oct. 15 call with reporters.
Gallion said Trump has taken a tough stance on China that has helped bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and contributed to solid grain prices.
“He tells China. They don’t tell us,” Gallion said.
Economists Wendong Zhang and Minghao Li say U.S. soybean farmers have lost over $10 billion from the trade war. But the researchers still think many in agriculture will vote for Trump because of the record federal farm relief payments, which could hit $46 billion this year.
That funding includes trade aid, which the Trump administration created to offset the effects of lost markets; congressionally-authorized payments for losses related to COVID-19; and safety-net assistance that predates Trump.
Some researchers have argued that the trade payments were not delivered in proper proportion to the losses in particular regions experienced.
Zhang and Li — of Iowa State and New Mexico State universities, respectively — said Midwestern farms made out the best, while economists at Kansas State University determined payments were particularly generous in the South.
Still, in a 2019 survey, Zhang and Li found that 56% of Midwestern crop farmers supported Trump’s China tariffs.
However they were distributed, the aid payments had softened the blow, and farmers said they shared other voters’ concerns about the trade deficit and intellectual property protections for U.S. companies doing business in China.
Farmers, after all, aren’t motivated strictly by agricultural issues, and 2020 has provided its share of hot-button topics — a pandemic that has killed 225,000 Americans, racial justice protests, climate change and the selection of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
For his part, Gallion thinks the president did the best he could at managing the pandemic without stoking hysteria.
And he’s impressed with how Barrett handled Democrats’ questioning during her confirmation hearings. “She’s the perfect person for the job,” he said.
Whether they will vote in person or have already mailed their ballots, farmers have had a lot to consider in the presidential race.