Farm State Voters See Agriculture at Risk from Climate Change, New Poll Shows

Large Majorities Would Back 2020 Presidential Candidate Who Wants to Help Farmers Build Resilience Through Improving Soil Health

Published Dec 17, 2019

WASHINGTON (December 17, 2019)—Voters across the political spectrum in five heavily agricultural states—including three states that may determine who wins the 2020 presidential election—see extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, as a significant threat to farming. Moreover, majorities in each state say they would be more likely to back a 2020 presidential candidate who proposes ways to help farmers and communities cope by building healthy, living soil. That’s according to a new poll conducted by Iowa-based RABA Research on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“From Iowa to Arkansas, farm state voters recognize that agriculture, farm communities and our food supply are being threatened by a host of issues, including climate change and trade disruption,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst with the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “Across party lines, voters want presidential candidates to propose science-based solutions that can build farmers’ resilience while also reducing water pollution and the flooding risks of cities and towns that are downstream from farms.”

Seventy percent of Minnesota poll respondents, 68 percent of Nebraska and Arkansas respondents, 64 percent of Iowa respondents and 57 percent of Michigan respondents said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate with such a platform. The poll was conducted between November 20 and 24 through telephone and online interviews and included more than 3,000 voters across the five states.

The survey found:

  • Overwhelming majorities of voters in each state—as high as 93 percent in Nebraska and Minnesota—say extreme weather is a significant threat to farmers and communities in their area. When asked specifically if “climate change” is affecting local agriculture, majorities in Iowa (58 percent), Michigan (63 percent), Minnesota (65 percent), and Nebraska (59 percent), and a plurality in Arkansas (49 percent) agreed that it is. Notably, 61 percent of respondents with farmers in their households across the five states also agreed.

  • Voters seem weary of doubling down on global commodity production and paying farmers who’ve suffered financial losses from trade wars, extreme weather, and climate-related disasters. Pluralities of voters (as high as 49 percent in Iowa and Minnesota) reported that they most want to hear political candidates talk about diversifying and developing new markets for the products farmers grow.

  • Large majorities—ranging from 78 percent in Michigan to 90 percent in Minnesota—also said they support government programs that help farmers try practices that build living soil (which includes applying lots of living and decaying matter to farmland to provide nutrients, hold water, and reduce runoff and pollution).

  • Overwhelming majorities of voters in all five states—as many as 90 percent in Minnesota—agreed that policies and programs that help farmers build healthy, living soil will help everyone, even city dwellers, by keeping water clean, saving taxpayers money on disaster relief, revitalizing local economies, and ensuring a reliable, healthy food supply.

  • Majorities in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Arkansas agreed that paying farmers to cover the cost of practices that protect soil, reduce vulnerability to floods and droughts, and prevent water pollution is one of the most important ways to safeguard agriculture and the nation’s food supply. Even larger majorities, as large as 71 percent in Minnesota, said the same about offering tax credits or other tax benefits to farmers who adopt such practices.

The findings come as voters in Iowa and other states prepare to go to the polls for presidential caucuses and primary elections, and as the Trump administration’s policies—from trade wars to rollbacks of climate action measures—promise to inflict more pain on U.S. farmers. Overall, the survey results reveal a strong voter appetite for change in the federal government’s priorities for supporting and protecting U.S. agriculture, revitalizing rural communities, and safeguarding the nation’s future food supply. Moreover, financial incentives for healthy-soil farming, such as direct payments or tax credits, enjoy broad support by voters across the political spectrum.