In recent years, economics professors Wendong Zhang and Minghao Li have surveyed farmers across America. Sometimes they grilled them about the US-China trade war, economic swings and agricultural subsidies; more recently, they focused on the upcoming presidential election. “We believe most US farmers will stay loyal to [Donald] Trump,” they wrote in a recent essay, posted on The Conversation website.
A survey the pair did of Midwest crop farmers in spring 2019 showed that “56 per cent said they somewhat or strongly support Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, despite retaliation on their own exports”. Polls elsewhere have also produced emphatic support for Trump: a July survey by Farm Futures of large-scale farmers found that 75 per cent of them backed the president. Strikingly, this was a rate broadly unchanged from 2016.
To outside eyes – particularly those in liberal coastal regions – this might seem surprising. After all, macro-level data suggest that farmers have good reason to feel angry. The US-China trade war is thought to have wiped $39bn off American exports, including many agricultural ones. Zhang and Li have calculated that it destroyed $10bn of soyabean sales alone. Separately, farm bankruptcies rose 20 per cent last year to reach an eight-year high, while Covid-19 has sparked further pain in recent months.