This week, I read an article from FiveThirtyEight about the single county in the United States that overwhelmingly voted for both Obama and Trump. This was such a fascinating concept for me, because we think of Obama and Trump on two sides of a political spectrum, and we often think of people as firmly in one party or the other without much room for change. We often hear about people voting with their party simply because that candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, with little knowledge about their policies. However, I don’t believe this is the case with this county. In the case of Howard County, a county of 9,332 people, I believe voters were making a conscious choice for both candidates, which makes this article even more fascinating. Howard county is 98% white, only 13% of residents over 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the median income in 2015 was $49,869. (A quick aside- I don’t know why they used the median instead of the mean. Perhaps there are a few people who run the businesses in Howard county who make a considerably larger amount, say, millions of dollars, that make the mean artificially inflated, but because the source didn’t tell me where the data came from, I have no real way of knowing). They don’t have high unemployment. Their main concern is stagnant wages and a collective sense that they have been working harder while other people have been receiving bigger rewards in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
What I found even more fascinating is that people said that if Bernie Sanders had won the primaries, they may have voted differently. The county felt like Clinton was elitist and that her policies wouldn’t benefit them as a blue-collar town. Many of the Sanders fans also felt like she stole the primary nomination from Sanders, which encouraged many of them to vote for Trump instead of Hillary. Others just wanted a change in the administration, and felt like Clinton would not provide as much of a drastic change as Trump (they were probably right in this, but I’m not sure if it ended up being the change they wanted).
Overall, I think that this article is fascinating and paints an interesting picture of American politics. The people in Howard county felt like the administration under Obama wasn’t benefitting them the way that they deserved. They voted for both candidates because of a common thread of anti-elitism. It’s hard for me to look at Obama and Trump and see anything in common with the two of them, but this feeling of anti-elitism makes sense. The people in Howard county saw both candidates as presidents who would help them, the small counties with little growth. When Obama didn’t create the drastic change they wanted, it made sense to move to Trump as someone who was drastically different. I don’t believe that this story is calling for vast political change, nor do I believe this single county is significant enough to necessitate it. However, I think that anti-elitist sentiments are not exclusive to this county. Perhaps knowing those sentiments would help future candidates know how to appeal to these blue-collar counties. However, I’m not sure if a change like that would have changed the outcome of the 2016 election. Howard county is a fascinating case study, but it may simply be a unique situation that doesn’t have implications for the rest of the country.