The latest installment of AP’s “Trump Country” series examines Washington state’s Grays Harbor County, plagued by addiction and deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide, and the varying degrees to which Trump supporters there believe the president can help turn things around.
Reporter Claire Galofaro, based in Louisville, Kentucky, and video journalist Martha Irvine, based in Chicago, recounted how “Trump Country” came about and commented on some of its key findings.
What prompted the idea to return to the traditionally Democratic
counties that had voted for Donald Trump?
Right after Donald Trump was elected president, we sat down with a bunch of spreadsheets and tried to figure out what data would offer us the best lens through which to examine voters’ embrace of Trump’s message. We decided to look at the tipping points, these counties that voted Republican for the first time in decades. That signaled to us that there was something about Trump specifically that spoke to those voters in a way no Republican had before, and they were ultimately the people and places that handed him the presidency.
Many voters talked about wanting “change.” We felt that going to these counties would help us dig more deeply into what sort of change they were looking for — and what issues were most crucial. Was it the economy? Did anti-immigrant sentiment play a role? Why were these communities feeling so forgotten?
You’ve traveled to Wisconsin, Maine and now Washington state. How did you choose those places?
We looked at a map of all the counties in the country that flipped from voting Democratic to voting for Donald Trump. There were 217, spread all across the country. But right in the middle, along the Mississippi River, there was a massive cluster of 50 counties that all flipped. We looked at data and demographics on those counties, and zeroed in on Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, as a place that might best represent that regional political shift.
We’ve tried to be careful to pick places that are unexpected, to emphasize that these issues affect us all, and not just the places we typically associate with them: we didn’t want to do a story about drug-related deaths in Appalachia, for example, or about immigration along the southern border.
What have been the key takeaways from your reporting thus far? Has anything surprised you?
Until we started reporting these stories, we did not fully grasp that in communities all across the country, people felt left profoundly behind by the rest of the nation, and desperate for dramatic change. It has become very apparent that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message resonated with communities that felt not only forgotten but where there was a lot of nostalgia for the communities that once were. Many people recalled towns that were once thriving. Perhaps they’d lost a mill. Perhaps the industries that sustained them, like logging, were largely dead.
We have come across some people who really liked Trump and liked what he had to offer. But we’ve met far, far more who just saw him as something radically different than all the other politicians who’ve made promises to them that they didn’t keep.
So far, it seems like most people we’ve come across are withholding judgment on Trump’s presidency for now. We keep hearing things like, “He’s the president for four years, that’s the way it is, let’s hope he can do what he promised.” But we haven’t met a single person particularly fond of his taunting on Twitter. It seems like most people wish he would focus on the economic promises he made to revitalize struggling communities.
Galofaro, Irvine and photographer
David Goldman describe the reporting in this AP video:
In the months ahead, “Trump Country” will unfold in text, video and photos. Follow the reporting here.
Read the first stories in the series below: