Today’s farm equipment has more in common with computers than plowshares. Modern tractors have can steer themselves and cost more than a few hundred thousand dollars. But the technology inside can be used to prevent farmers from repairing or altering the machines they own. Many farm equipment manufacturers, such as John Deere, build software into their equipment that prevents anyone other than “certified dealers” from making repairs. This puts farmers in tough situations.
Imagine a farmer’s tractor breaks down on a Monday. Previously, if this farmer was capable of fixing the issue, they could simply make the repairs themselves and continue on with their day. But with many modern machines and their coded restrictions, farmers have to call in a technician approved by the manufacturer, costing them several days of work and hundreds of dollars. This situation is causing consternation among America’s farmers and many are choosing to operate their equipment without repairs.
Elizabeth Warren recently announced her support in favor of a nationwide “Right-to-Repair” law that would get rid of this system; farmers would not have to spend extra time and money relying on authorized agents for repairs. Bernie Sanders also supports such a law.
Data for Progress fielded a study with YouGov Blue to get a sense of the popularity of this proposal.
We asked respondents:
Currently, some farm equipment providers require customers to use authorized
agents to make repairs, rather than allowing farmers to do repairs themselves. Would you
support or oppose a policy allowing farmers to repair equipment they own, rather than to have
an authorized agent make repairs for them?
We found strong overall support for this Right-to-Repair law: 71% favored it, while only 7% opposed, constituting a net support of 64%.
This is also an issue that finds rare bipartisan agreement in 2019: a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans support the measure. Despite it being supported by prominent Democratic presidential candidates, Democrats have the lowest approval of these three groups—a still robust 65%, but lower than the 73%+ support from independents and Republicans. However, this appears mostly due to a lack of knowledge about this issue: Only 7% of Democrats opposed the issue, which is not statistically different from their independent and Republican counterparts, while 28% were unsure of their opinion or said they neither supported nor opposed.
This is an agricultural issue, so one might anticipate lower support from constituents living in the suburbs or cities. However, we find overwhelming support for the Right-to-Repair proposal, regardless of where a respondent lives. We see the same pattern for city-dwellers that we see for Democrats: Lower support, but primarily due to a lack of knowledge on the issue.
We find that a Right-to-Repair law would be met with broad support. Software restrictions that allow only authorized agents to perform repairs, and potentially lock farmers out of their own machines, are not popular. Legislation to prevent agricultural machine manufacturers from continuing these practices would be well received.
Avery Wendell (@awendell98) is a senior advisor for Data for Progress. He is a data scientist focusing on advertising. He is working towards a Masters of Public Policy at Harvard and a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School of Business.
Mark White (markhw.com) is a quantitative social scientist. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas, studying prejudice and political ideology.
On behalf of Data for Progress, YouGov Blue fielded a national survey of US registered voters. The national issues survey was conducted by YouGov Blue from March 30-April 4, 2019 using YouGov’s online panel. The sample consists of 1,012 respondents interviewed on the internet who were registered to vote. The sample was weighted to be representative of the national population of voters by age, race, sex, education, and region using a 2018 US voter frame.