Many of the farmers in the rural Midwestern and Great Plains Congressional districts that showed up the most for President Trump in 2016 will feel the hardest direct economic hit from the tariffs China imposed in response to Trump’s trade war.
In response to China refusing to acquiesce to Trump’s trade demands, President Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion in Chinese exports in June. This week, China responded by imposing a 25 percent tariff on U.S. agricultural products, including soybeans. China previously imposed a 179 percent duty on sorghum imported from the U.S., which is especially significant when considering China is the recipient of approximately 80 percent of the sorghum exported from the U.S.
However, the soybean tariffs are likely to be a particularly harsh blow to soybean farmers who hail from deep-red states and districts counted in the most pro-Trump areas of the country.
According to a recent Bloomberg report, the 30 Congressional districts in 14 states (25 Republican-controlled, five Democrat-controlled) that rely the most on soybean exports all voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. If soybean farmers take their economic frustration with them to the polls, this bloc of voters alone could flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives, as Democrats only need to flip 24 seats in order to retake the majority.
“It’s like he’s microtargeting policy to screw his own supporters,” a Republican strategist told Bloomberg.
The district represented by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — who recently made headlines for proudly retweeting an avowed neo-Nazi — lies in the heart of one of the highest agricultural output regions of the U.S., representing roughly 18,000 soybean farms. Even King admits that the farmers in his district will take a hit in their bank account thanks to China’s soybean tariffs.
“There’s a tremendous amount of concern on soybeans and a number of other ag products,” King told Bloomberg. “Our grain prices right now are a little more than half what they were at their peak 10 years ago. In my neighborhood, to take a hit in a trade war on top of the depressed commodities prices, it just sends a chill down your spine.”
Even outside of these districts, the blow to farmers’ profits could impact statewide races in the Midwest this November and potentially help Democrats’ chances of taking back the U.S. Senate. Angry farmers’ votes could potentially help Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) secure re-election in tight races.
Beyond the political implications, the trade war is already having a fatal impact on struggling farmers. Studies of suicide rates over the last 30 years show that farmers are increasingly taking their own lives due to falling incomes and other economic stressors.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.