In rural Youngstown, a borough in western Pennsylvania, the entire exterior of a house has been painted with a wraparound mural of the American flag. Flanked by a giant “Trump 2016” sign and a towering metal replica of Donald Trump, this red, white and blue shrine to the presidential candidate—called “Trump House”—is located in Westmoreland County. The county falls in the Rust Belt: a region that was once the industrial heartland of the United States, spanning several north-eastern and mid-western states. Now, the Rust Belt is known for urban decline, abandoned factories and angry voters—many of whom are rooting for Trump.
On the rainy afternoon of 29 September, in a tent outside Trump House, I met one such voter: 29-year-old Rocky Anthony Naples. A fourth-generation steelworker, he has been laid off twice in the six years since he joined the workforce. Before we met in person, he told me over the phone that finding a job had been “sheer hell.”
Donald Trump has managed to alienate almost every sub-group of voters, including Latinos, black people, Muslims and women. But his appeal among one demographic—working-class white people—remains strong. The research and polling agency Gallup found his supporters to be “less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations.” In September, a CNN poll measured Trump’s support amongst “whites who do not hold college degrees” at a whopping 68 percent, to the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 24 percent. This lead holds up even withnon-college white women voters, although less so than with non-college white men
I was curious to understand the appeal, amongst this working-class demographic, of a billionaire real-estate magnate whose failed business ventureshave resulted in thousands of laid-off workers, and who may not have paid taxes in over 18 years. In Pennsylvania, a swing state—where the two main candidates have lately been locked in a close race, and Trump’s rhetoric has gotten increasingly heated—the Republican’s cultivation of support among working-class voters is especially crucial for him. My trip to Westmoreland in the last week of September revealed that the strong support for Trump in such post-industrial counties is often based on deep-rooted economic frustration.
It took me 12 hours, two bus trips and a cab ride through rural farmland to reach Trump House from New York City. Naples met me in early evening after he got off work, just as it started to pour. Dressed in a grey sweatshirt and khaki shorts, he was tall and lanky, with a shaved head. Naples did not have enough petrol in his car to drive me to his house, and Uber doesn’t service the area, so we sat down inside a tent pitched next to Trump House, and he began by telling me his story.