The Crawford Counties of the nation are a big reason why Donald Trump won the 2016 election and probably why Republicans control the majority of state houses. I think the votes in these mostly rural areas reflect dissatisfaction with Washington and Congress. And perhaps even white voters were listening when Trump encouraged African-American citizens to vote for him by saying, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Crawford County borders the Mississippi River in Southwestern Wisconsin. It is one of the state’s poorest with a 2014 population of 16,392. Recently Associated Press reporter Claire Galofaro wrote an interesting article on this area entitled, “Voters await economic revival in a part of pro-Trump America.”
Crawford is a small, predominately white, Midwestern county where most of the ambitious young people leave for college or a better job and they don’t come back. Those who stay carry on the business or the farming that sustained their parents or work in one of the area’s small shops. Only 15 percent of the residents have a college education. This area of Wisconsin appears to be fairly representative of Middle America.
The local 3-M plant and a Cabela’s distribution center employ hundreds of workers. But jobs that pay above $12 per hour are hard to find and the $44,000 median household income is $9,000 below the state average. Even couples who are both employed find it difficult to make ends meet.
Of the people Ms. Galofaro interviewed many had voted for Barack Obama. So why then would they cast their lot with Donald Trump?
Well, one 50+ year-old woman who is working in a small factory sewing sports uniforms for $10.50 per hour switched. Although she still admires President Obama; she can’t afford health insurance. A dairy farmer whose profits have been plummeting thinks Trump is a jerk but was willing to take a chance with him. These and others in the area see low wages that aren’t rising and health care costs that are. They have an uneasy feeling that their situation will not get better while the fortunes of others – perhaps the elite Trump railed against — are improving.
Further east in another depressed area is McDowell County, West Virginia. According to a Washington Post article, chronic diseases cause this county to have the shortest life expectancy in the nation. At one of the five clinics operated by the Tug River Health Association a nurse practitioner treats a lot of unemployed coal miners. Many of them once had good paying jobs and company health insurance. For now they are able to get free health care due to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). In fact, last year 61 percent of the 20,000 visits to Tug River’s clinics were covered by Medicaid.
One 54 year- old miner walks with a cane and suffers from diabetes, arthritis, diverticulitis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He may no longer be employable but he listened to Trump’s promises to bring coal jobs back. He didn’t understand what problems repealing Obamacare would cause but figured that if he had a job that provided health insurance he wouldn’t need Medicaid. So he joined the 74 percent of the county that voted for Trump.
It is likely that a large percentage of these voters benefit from government assistance of some kind, not only Obamacare and Medicaid but food stamps and Medicare. Yet a recent survey showed that 36 percent of West Virginians favored the GOP’s American Health Care Act, one of the highest approval ratings among the states.
Swift County, Minnesota is a rural area a couple hours’ drive west of Minneapolis. In 2010 the Prairie Correctional Facility closed, eliminating more than 350 jobs. This was devastating for a population of 9,700. Thereafter the poverty rate increased and unemployment soared. The local farmers were in a bind because the global commodity markets tanked and so did prices for corn, wheat and soybeans.
Although Swift County voted heavily Democratic in the past, last year Trump beat Hillary Clinton by taking 59 percent of the vote. These voters believed the recovery hadn’t reached them so they took a chance that Trump’s promises might improve their economic conditions.
Recent statistics show that rural counties are voting for Republicans while urban counties are strong for Democrats. According to researchers at Brookings less than 500 counties across the nation voted for Clinton in the 2016 election; Trump won in around 2,600. But the counties that voted for Clinton produce an astounding 64 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Obviously Trump’s supporters live in less productive areas where folks must wonder how his budget will help them. Well, here is some of what it calls for over 10 years: Medicaid cut by $610 billion on top of the AHCA’s cuts of $800 billion, agriculture cut by $46.5 billion, including support for crop insurance, education cut by $143.2 billion and food stamps cut by 190.9 billion.
Not all of Trump’s cruel budget will be included in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations but you can bet Congress will reduce federal spending significantly. Meanwhile Trump is proposing tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy urban counties and he’s flip-flopping on health care and other promises he made to his rural county base.
So I have to wonder — what does Crawford County think of Trump now?