STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A lot of surveys show Mitt Romney following behind President Obama. But one survey has good news for the Republican candidate. It gives him a huge and solid lead among a key Republican constituency: rural voters in battleground states. The same survey shows that the President Obama's rural support has eroded since 2008.
Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.
HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: People and geese flock to Waupun, Wisconsin, the migrating geese because there's prime habitat; people go to see the geese. So far, neither flock includes candidates for president, so single mom Nicole Heeringa is basing her 2012 vote on how life hasn't changed since 2008.
NICOLE HERRINGA: I thought we'd be in a lot better position here in the United States than we are. Not a lot has been done with our economy. I just want the economy to get better, is really all I want.
BERKES: Heeringa is 26 and works in a candy store. She checked the Obama box on her ballot four years ago, when 47 percent of the voters in rural battleground counties did the very same thing. That unusually strong rural showing for a Democrat helped get the president elected, but a new survey from the Center for Rural Strategies has the president seven points lower there now.
GLEN BOLGER: I think you're seeing two things happening. One is people saying this is a Chicago guy, he doesn't completely represent our values, he doesn't understand us.
BERKES: Glen Bolger is the Republican political consultant who supervised and analyzed the bipartisan survey, which included 600 rural voters in nine battleground states.
BOLGER: You know, he accused of being bitter by clinging to guns and religion four years ago, so we took a chance on him, he disappointed us, so we're going to go back to their more traditional voting patterns.
BERKES: That means big Republican numbers in rural counties, and the survey has Romney at 54 percent, a 14 point margin. That group includes Donald Young, a 66-year-old painter in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, who says he was forced into retirement by a weak economy.
DONALD YOUNG: Romney has a business background, so Romney will do something to create a friendly business climate, and these people will open up and start hiring and developing.
BERKES: The rural romp for Romney doesn't surprise Anna Greenberg, the Democratic pollster on the bipartisan survey team.
ANNA GREENBERG: I think this survey reinforces the overall geographic dynamics of elections in this country, which is to say big margins in urban areas for Democrats contesting the suburbs and losing rural areas big, but there's some things in the survey that are intriguing.
BERKES: Like this question: Who would do a better job of addressing the needs and concerns of women? It's the only question in the survey in which more respondents favored President Obama, and they did so by five points. That may help explain some indecision among some of the women polled. Erin Jordan is a 24-year-old nurse in Gallipolis, Ohio, who voted Republican four years ago, but says this about the president.
ERIN JORDAN: He's just more appealing to the general population. I mean even doing things like going on the late-night shows like Jimmy Fallon and doing the little rap thing that he did on there, it just makes him more approachable.
BERKES: And when Jordan thinks of Mitt Romney...
JORDAN: I picture my dad. My dad's not always firm in what he believes in politically, I guess.
BERKES: But Romney may get Jordan's vote, she says, because she's concerned as a nurse about changes in health care under President Obama and how that might change more if he's reelected. Still, this volatility encourages Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg.
GREENBERG: I actually think it's really possible that Obama picks up more support in rural areas, which just will bolster a growing lead, frankly.
BERKES: Well, there isn't much rural support up for grabs if the poll reflects reality. Just two percent of those surveyed didn't pick a favorite. Only three percent said they were just leaning toward a candidate. Mitt Romney seems to have the rural margin he needs to make him competitive in battleground states. Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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