In this modern era of micro-targeting, where every vote in a swing state is coveted by both major political parties, conservative allies of the Trump campaign are investing in an outside-the-box strategy to court a historically unenthusiastic portion of the electorate — the Amish.
Although there are about 70,000 Amish citizens and counting in the potential swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, very few of them have participated in presidential politics, since their faith requires them to eschew most of the trappings of modern society. For instance, in 2004, an estimated 1, 300 voted in the Lancaster County, P.A. region (or 13 percent of the eligible Amish voting population), and while they largely backed President George W. Bush’s re-election, their tiny turnout didn’t prevent Democratic nominee John Kerry from winning statewide.
Nevertheless, Trump supporters with ties to Dr. Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich have founded Amish PAC, which aims to launch the most ambitious get-out-the-vote efforts among the devout religious sect to date. They will almost certainly face an uphill battle, since the Amish don’t watch television or read social media, which could be a net positive or negative for Trump, depending on your point of view. And while voting is not necessarily prohibited by their strict religious beliefs, it’s not exactly encouraged either.
“I’ve got to say, I don’t know that we’re going to change voting habits drastically,” Ben Walters, a fundraiser for the PAC, conceded in an interview with Politico on Friday. “But we can only help them.”
“In Florida in 2000, it came down to a couple polling places,” he added. “What if that happened in Ohio or Pennsylvania? It could.”
And Trump is not the first candidate to see the Amish as an untapped resource. In 2008, John McCain’s campaign hoped to capitalize on the staunchly conservative values (and some would argue prejudice) of the Amish. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush made an unprecedented appeal to Amish families, visiting them in person that July to make a direct pitch and wound up registering several hundred new Republican voters in the process, according to the Washington Post. And while the effort didn’t flip Pennsylvania red, it may have fortified Bush’s narrow victory in Ohio, which ultimately propelled him back into the White House.
“George W. Bush is not Donald Trump,” Donald Kraybill, an expert on the Amish people at Elizabethtown College told Politico. “There’s a lot of aspects about Trump that are antithetical to Amish values and Amish beliefs. This is a very different situation now than it was in 2004.”
Also working against the Republicans is the fact that the voter ID laws favored by GOP lawmakers could keep most would-be Amish voters, who object to having their photo taken for religious reasons, away from the polls. While lawmakers have provided a questionnaire for these unique voters, where they can express their faith-based opposition to a photo ID, some have argued that the process would be alienating and intrusive.
Meanwhile, many farmers have come forward to condemn the Trump campaign for his anti-immigrant rhetoric on the stump (he has accused undocumented workers of being “rapists” and “criminals”), especially considering the fact that many of them rely on foreign-born labor to function in the modern economy. Still, that hasn’t stopped Trump from aligning himself with the cause of farmers, not unlike his efforts to associate himself with groups like veterans and bikers.
While campaigning recently in California, Trump declared “there is no drought” despite considerable evidence to the contrary in the nation’s most populous state. Trump argued that water resources are being withheld from farmers to protect an endangered “three-inch fish.”
“Playing off ‘farmers versus fish’ is a sound bite but isn’t a solution to any real-world problems,” Lester Snow, executive director of the nonprofit California Water Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times regarding Trump’s latest crusade. “It’s just an old, tired bumper-sticker way of talking about California’s water problems.”