Vigo County, Indiana Has Correctly Predicted The President For More Than 100 Years. Here's Why Since 1892, Vigo County in Indiana has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election but two. What did the voters there see about Donald Trump's candidacy?
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This Bellwether Has Picked The Winning Presidential Candidate Since The 1890s

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This Bellwether Has Picked The Winning Presidential Candidate Since The 1890s

This Bellwether Has Picked The Winning Presidential Candidate Since The 1890s

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For more than 100 years, Vigo County, Ind., has nearly always voted for the winning presidential candidate. It chose Barack Obama twice, and then the same county voted for Donald Trump. The story of that county drew NPR's Asma Khalid back to her home state of Indiana to find out what was going on. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Some people are going to be scratching their heads here and wondering how it's even possible that a county that voted for one guy could support the other guy.

KHALID: That's true, Steve. But I think, first, you need to understand a bit about Vigo itself. The county's about an hour southwest of Indianapolis, and it's a place where the economy used to be really, really vibrant. But nowadays, you see manufacturing plants that have shut down, and unions have lost a lot of their influence there. So the economy is hurting. It's also a mix of registered Republicans and Democrats, old union guys and young college students, city folks and farmers - a real mix of people.

INSKEEP: Does that make it a microcosm of the country?

KHALID: You know, Steve, you would think that, but, no, not really. I asked Matt Bergbower about this. He's a politics professor at Indiana State University.

MATT BERGBOWER: The county is more white than the nation. It has far fewer Hispanics. The nation overall is far more diverse on Hispanics than Vigo County. On education levels, Vigo County is less educated. And then, finally, if you're going to look at the income, Vigo County is poorer.

KHALID: So, Steve, I went to Vigo County last week. I wanted to understand, if it isn't exactly demographics, then what did folks in the county see in this election that was so predictive? Our producer Will Huntsberry and I drove to a farm supply shop called Rural King. And that's where we met Bernard Gibson. He was picking up heat lamps for his baby chickens with his great granddaughter, Oakley. Gibson says Vigo is a bellwether because it's full of everyday folks.

BERNARD GIBSON: These are real people here. These are not New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, you know, these are - these are real people that live every day from hand to hand and have - just have to work to make a living and everything else.

KHALID: Gibson voted for Donald Trump. He didn't love the idea, but he wanted a change.

GIBSON: Well, I think we picked the lesser of two evils. Yeah, I think that's what we had to do this time. It's not necessarily the best.

KHALID: But like Vigo County, Gibson does not always choose a Republican president. Back in 2008, he voted for Barack Obama. He says he liked that message of hope and change.

GIBSON: It was a good message. And, you know, it's the same way with Trump now, you know? Make America great again - whether he will or not, it's the idea that's - that's what he's trying for, I guess.

KHALID: Even though Gibson personally went back and forth politically, nationally, rural voters have leaned Republican. And traditionally, that might have been counterbalanced by another powerful group in Vigo County - unions that, for years, were reliable Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Everybody get a chance to see the minutes?

KHALID: We swung by the Labor Temple in town, where a bunch of union bosses were meeting - electricians, plumbers, carpenters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All those in favor?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Opposed? The ayes have it.

KHALID: These folks are all solid Democrats. But Brian Davidson with the carpenters union says they couldn't convince all their members to follow their lead.

BRIAN DAVIDSON: We asked our members who they were voting for. I don't know about you guys, but they would - they couldn't wait to tell me they were voting for Trump. I mean, they couldn't wait to get it in my face. Hey, yeah, what are you going to do about it? I'm voting for Trump. I don't care what you say. You're not going to tell me what to do.

KHALID: And his buddy, Ron Morin, agreed. He represents cement masons. A lot of union men here in Vigo County are social conservatives. And so Morin says sometimes his guys are more concerned about abortion and guns rather than their wallets. Morin has a frank way of talking, and isn't afraid to use colorful language.

RON MORIN: When our members will wake their rear ends up is when they watch their wages and their pensions and their health insurance dump in the toilet. They'll wake up, and they'll say, wow, I'm working for 12 bucks an hour now. That's when they're going to wake up, and it's going to be too late.

KHALID: Brandon Woods is exactly the kind of union voter the bosses at this meeting are worried about.

BRANDON WOODS: I voted for Trump, and just pretty much tired of the political propaganda everywhere.

KHALID: That propaganda is the idea that voting for Democrats is better for union guys like him.

WOODS: I don't really buy it.

KHALID: Woods is a former military man, wearing boots, a long beard and a camouflage hat.

WOODS: There's big businesses on the Democrat side that are owning half the politicians that are up there. They do everything that they want them to do. And it's just us trying to make it on the bottom here.

KHALID: Part of Trump's success is that people who had voted for Obama stayed home this year. We met Dave Cochran on a construction site. He was heading to his truck to get some supplies. And he told our producer, Will, that he voted for Obama twice. But this year...

DAVE COCHRAN: This is the first presidential one I missed.

WILL HUNTSBERRY, BYLINE: Wow, why?

COCHRAN: I don't know. The choices, maybe. I don't know. I just didn't do it this year. I definitely didn't like Hillary. Donald - I don't know. We'll see what he does.

KHALID: But union guys who helped Barack Obama win this county aren't the only ones who stayed home.

MAVERICK OLDHAM: My name is Maverick Oldham. I am 20, and I did not vote.

KHALID: We met Oldham near the fountains on the campus of Indiana State University. This county is home to four colleges, and that's one of the major democratic forces here. President Obama won partly by energizing students. But Oldham told me he was not excited about this election, and he got tied up with classes on Election Day. But here's the thing - Oldham's dream candidate was Bernie Sanders.

OLDHAM: If he had been on the ballot, I might have tried more towards the morning. If Bernie had, like, been a decision, I might have been a little more inclined to vote.

KHALID: So, Steve, the one lasting thing I got from this trip is that even though people voted differently, they still respect each other. I met Oldham. He was with two of his buddies who are Trump supporters. And you saw that all over Vigo County - that Republicans and Democrats, they're neighbors, they're friends, and they're family. And people would tell me that it's much harder to demonize one another because they know each other so well. And, you know, maybe that's a bellwether for how the rest of this really divided country can navigate life after the election.

INSKEEP: And it's an interesting reminder at this moment where there's so many racial divisions that there was a big part of the white working class that voted for a black president once upon a time. That was part of the Obama coalition.

KHALID: That's true, Steve, and that's what we saw in Vigo County. You know, if you look at that county, it is overwhelmingly white at a moment when the country is becoming browner. But this county did choose Barack Obama two times. And, you know, I don't know if that will last moving forward. It seems like Vigo County is kind of this model of old political divisions, where we see unions and farmers.

INSKEEP: And so does that mean that it will not necessarily be a bellwether in the future?

KHALID: Steve, I think that's sort of the million dollar question. I asked that question to experts around town, and people would tell me that no one was willing to put money down on that prediction. They felt like it was unlikely that they felt confident enough to bet money that Vigo County will continue to be a bellwether for the next 100 years.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Asma Khalid, who's done amazing work on demographics this election season. You hear her on NPR News.

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