Republican Mitt Romney has increased a strong lead among rural voters in swing states, according to a National Rural Assembly poll released Tuesday.
Rural, swing-state voters surveyed last week said they preferred Romney to President Barack Obama by a 22-point margin, 59% to 37%.
In a similar poll from mid-September, Romney led Obama among rural voters in swing states by 14 points, 54% to 40%.
"We're seeing a major shift to Gov. Romney among these voters, and that's going a long way toward tightening the presidential race," said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, which commissioned the poll.
The poll questioned 600 likely voters living in rural counties in nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm that works for Democratic candidates, conducted the poll. A Republican firm, North Star Opinion Research, helped design and interpret the poll's results. The poll was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
In the 2008 race, Obama trimmed the Republican advantage among rural voters in closely contested states to only 2%. But the new poll, which was fielded after the first presidential debate, shows rural support for the president dropping.
"Not only has President Obama's support eroded (from 2008), post debate it's eroded even more," said Anna Greenberg. "It's a pretty sobering result."
Dan Judy of North Star Opinion Research said Mitt Romney had been "under-performing" among rural voters in September. "Now he has surged into a huge lead," Judy said, "And I think it's fair to say his lead among these rural voters is what's helping him in swing states overall."
Both Greenberg and Judy described the electorate in this year's race as "highly volatile."
The poll shows a decline for President Obama in every issue area covered in the poll.
• Values. Rural voters in October gave Romney a 22-point advantage on the question of which candidate shared "your values." Last month, Romney's lead on the "values" question was 14%age points.
• Economy. Romney had a 30-point lead on the question of who would do best job of "improving the economy," compared to a 17-point lead in last month's poll.
• Medicare and Social Security. According to this poll, 62% of rural voters said Romney would do a better job saving Medicare and Social Security, compared to just 15% who favored President Obama — a 47-point difference. In September, Romney had only a 9-point advantage on the Medicare and Social Security question.
• The Middle Class. Romney's advantage on who would do a better job at "addressing the needs and concerns of the middle class" increased to 20 points, from a 6 point advantage in September.
• Federal Deficit. In this October poll, 63% said Romney would do a better job of "reducing the federal deficit." Only 26% favored Obama on this question.
• Women. The only areas where the president is close to Romney are in women's issues and health care. Romney holds a 3-point advantage in this poll on questions of who would do a better job of addressing their views on healthcare.
Greenberg sees a potential advantage for Democrats talking about these issues. But even those categories showed a movement toward Romney. In September, rural voters gave Obama a 5-point advantage on who would do the best job of "addressing the needs and concerns of women." In the October poll, voters favored Romney by 2 points on this same question.
• Health Care. When asked specifically about "Obamacare," rural swing state voters disapprove of that legislation by a 60% to 34% margin.
Judy said he expected these margins to stand through the election. "The reason for that is (these voters') innate conservatism," said the Republican pollster. "This is a case of them coming home."
Both Judy and Greenberg said the rural swing state vote would affect more than just the presidential vote. Many of these swing states have close races for the House and the Senate and a strong vote out of rural precincts "is absolutely going to help those candidates who are down ballot," Judy said.
"I think the president can overcome and still win (nationally)," Greenberg said. "But this makes it harder to win down ballot."
Both candidates have also answered questionnaires about their rural and agricultural policies for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association. Click the links to read more.