WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential nominee John McCain leads Democratic rival Barack Obama by 10 percentage points, 51 percent to 41 percent, among rural voters in 13 pivotal states, a poll released on Monday shows.
Rural voters, who tend to be social and fiscal conservatives, strongly preferred McCain over Obama on taxes and the war in Iraq. The two men are tied statistically on the economy, which respondents said was their No. 1 issue.
The rural race is more competitive than four years ago, said Tim Marema of the nonprofit Center for Rural Strategies, of Whitesburg, Kentucky, which commissioned the poll, conducted last week. At this point in 2004, President George W. Bush had a 13-point rural lead over John Kerry on his way to re-election.
“McCain is essentially where Bush was in 2004,” said Republican consultant Bill Greener. He said McCain improved his standing on issues across the board since he led in a May rural poll, 51-42. He gained 11 points against Obama on the economy, for example, for a 46-43 edge.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said McCain’s gains on issues did not translate into voter support.
“We think that’s because he has failed to make an effective argument on the one issue rural voters care about the most — the economy,” said Greenberg in a statement.
The poll questioned 742 likely voters Tuesday through Thursday in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Nearly one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas.
By a 2-to-1 margin, rural voters said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, “represents the values of rural communities.” Fifty percent said her nomination made them more likely to vote for McCain.
The top three issues for poll respondents were the economy and jobs, energy and gas prices, and the war in Iraq.
Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Mohammad Zargham