At the base of Trump's support
If you drive anywhere in Pennsylvania, from the turnpike to the old U.S. routes to the dirt roads connecting small towns like Hooversville with “bigger” small towns like Somerset, you might conclude that Donald Trump is ahead in this state by double digits.
Large signs, small signs, homemade signs, signs that wrap around barns, signs that go from one end of a fence to another, all dot the landscape with such frequency that, if you were playing the old-fashioned road-trip game of counting cows, you would hit 100 in just one small town like this one.
In Ruffsdale, I am pretty sure I saw more than 100 Trump signs.
It's as if people here have not turned on the television to hear pundits drone on and on about how badly Trump is losing in Pennsylvania.
It's not just visual: In interview after interview in all corners of the state, I've found that Trump's support across the ideological spectrum remains strong. Democrats, Republicans, independents, people who have not voted in presidential elections for years — they have not wavered in their support.
Two components of these voters' answers and profiles remain consistent: They are middle-class, and they do not live in a big city. They are suburban to rural and are not poor — an element I found fascinating, until a Gallup survey last week confirmed that what I've gathered in interviews is more than just freakishly anecdotal.
The Gallup analysis, based on 87,000 interviews over the past year, shows that while economic anxiety and Trump's appeal are intertwined, his supporters for the most part do not make less than average Americans (not those in New York City or Washington, perhaps, but their Main Street peers) and are less likely to be unemployed.
The study backs up what many of my interviews across the state found — that these people are more concerned about their children and grandchildren.
While Trump supporters here are overwhelmingly white, their support has little to do with race (yes, you'll always find one or two who make race the issue) but has a lot to do with a perceived loss of power.
Not power in the way that Washington or Wall Street board rooms view power, but power in the sense that these people see a diminishing respect for them and their ways of life, their work ethic, their tendency to not be mobile (many live in the same eight square miles that their father's father's father lived in).
Thirty years ago, such people determined the country's standards in entertainment, music, food, clothing, politics, personal values. Today, they are the people who are accused of creating every social injustice imaginable; when anything in society fails, they get blamed.
The places where they live lack economic opportunities for the next generation; they know their children and grandchildren will never experience the comfortable situations they had growing up — surrounded by family who lived next door, able to find a great job without going to college, both common traits among many successful small-business owners in the state.
These Trump supporters are not the kind you find on Twitter saying dumb or racist things; many of them don't have the time or the patience to engage in social media because they are too busy working and living life in real time.
These are voters who are intellectually offended watching the Affordable Care Act crumble because they warned six years ago that it was an unworkable government overreach. They are the same people who wonder why President Obama has not taken a break from a week of golfing to address the devastating floods in Louisiana. (As one woman told me, “It appears as if he only makes statements during tragedies if there is political gain attached.”)
Voice such a remark, and you risk being labeled a racist in many parts of America.
The Joe-Six-Pack stereotype of a Trump supporter was not created in a vacuum; it's real and it's out there. Yet, if you dig down deep into the Gallup survey — or, better yet, take a drive 15 minutes outside of most cities in America — you will learn a different story.
That is, if you look and listen.
Salena Zito covers politics for the Trib (email@example.com).