Mitt Romney was the overwhelming choice of voters in counties that receive the biggest federal farm subsidy payments, even as the Republican presidential candidate campaigned against dependence on government.
The BGOV Barometer shows nine of the 10 counties collecting the most in farm subsidies last year backed Romney, with Stoddard County, a rice, corn and cotton producer in southeast Missouri, voting for the Republican over President Barack Obama by the biggest margin, almost three-to-one. Farmers there got $13.5 million in farm subsidies in 2011, ranking seventh on the list.
“Farmers vote Republican but they like Democratic programs,” said former Representative Charles Stenholm of Texas, who served as the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee while in office and is now a lobbyist. “They consider themselves to be conservative, and if something is important to them, then they don’t consider that liberal.”
Of the top 10, only majority-black Bolivar County, Mississippi, supported Obama. Bolivar County, in the state’s rural Delta region, took in $13.6 million in farm aid in 2011. Seven other counties -- four in Arkansas, two in California, and one in Texas -- gave Romney at least 60 percent of the vote, according to an analysis of election data and agricultural subsidies. Whitman County, Washington, also favored Romney, though only by a 50-47 percent margin with about 5 percent of the vote left to count.
Farmers “tend to be more conservative” in general than other voters, supporting less regulation while still wanting to maintain a safety net for food and livestock producers, said Robert Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the biggest U.S. farmer group. Still, the farm vote shouldn’t be dismissed by the White House, he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t large numbers who supported” the president, he said.
While rural voters provided Romney with his margin of victory in North Carolina last week, their support wasn’t enough to put him over the top in other contested states such as Ohio, according to an analysis of election results last week by the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Republicans had been counting on heavy turnout in small towns and farms to offset Democratic advantages in cities.
Of the top 10 counties, Colusa County, California, received the most payments, with $19 million in 2011, according to data compiled by Environmental Working Group, a conservation-advocacy organization that tracks subsidies. The payments don’t include crop insurance indemnities that fluctuate widely among regions from year to year because of weather disasters.
Romney carried Colusa County, where rice subsidies dominated payments, with 61 percent of the vote. In Bolivar County in Mississippi, a rice, soybean and cotton-growing area, Obama won with 69 percent of the vote.
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