Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

1 Year Later Revisiting 2 Election Battleground States


Fifty-two weeks ago today was Election Day, and Donald Trump used strong support among working-class voters in key states, especially in the upper Midwest, to win an Electoral College victory in the 2016 presidential contest. All week we are looking at the impact of that election on our political system. And we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea, who is fresh off a trip talking to Trump supporters in Pennsylvania and Ohio, revisiting two big battleground states that Trump carried. Hi there, Don.


GREENE: So you were going back there not to meet new people but to actually find some of the people who you had spoken to before.

GONYEA: That's right, and here's the shorthand. They don't believe the polls showing record-low approval ratings. They do acknowledge a learning curve for President Trump. And they say he has kept a very big promise, to drive the establishment nuts. But I heard more. So, David, just come along with me as I retrace my steps from a year ago. First stop is Washington County, Pa. This is coal country. It's where Christina and Frank Zaccone live. Carry-out Italian food had just arrived as we got reacquainted.

FRANK ZACCONE: I put a knife on the stromboli.

CHRISTINA ZACCONE: OK. Here's some, like, sauce and ranch if anybody wants that for their food.

GONYEA: He's 31 and works as a coal miner. She is 32, a homemaker. They have two kids. Candidate Trump made big promises to coal miners and has cut some Obama-era regulations. Now, jobs are still being automated, and there's competition from other energy sources, but Christina Zaccone says at least they now have someone on their side.

C. ZACCONE: And that's all we wanted. We wanted somebody that wasn't our enemy in the presidential seat.

GONYEA: Frank Zaccone says he's confident Trump will be good for coal.

F. ZACCONE: The initial steps are in place.

GONYEA: This rural county was already Republican. But Christina, who has been involved with the local GOP for years, says she's noticed a big change. Party events are more blue-collar, she says, and with younger people.

C. ZACCONE: You have them attending events. You have them going out and putting out signs for candidates. You have them participating in things that they would have never participated in prior to Trump.

GONYEA: OK. Now to a more affluent suburb of Pittsburgh to the north, Murrysville. Fifty-five-year-old GOP activist Jill Cooper is a retired corporate marketing manager. She says party politics are changing here as well, but it was driven first by the Obama presidency. People got involved to oppose his policies. Then Trump came along, and she says he gave Republicans something to support. She recognizes that a lot of Republicans cringe when Trump tweets, but, Cooper says...

JILL COOPER: And every day we get up, and even if you think Trump's having a bad day, you remember Hillary's not president.

GONYEA: And Cooper dismisses Trump's low approval ratings. I asked her, does the president need to win over Americans beyond his hardcore base? She answers with questions of her own.

COOPER: How's your 401(k) doing? How's your stock doing? He's created jobs. He's created economic optimism. What's the old saying? You vote your pocketbook. He's fine.

GONYEA: Now, one more stop, northeast Ohio, land of shuttered steel factories. I'm back in the Top Notch Diner, just a bit north of Youngstown. Garry Frederick is the mostly retired co-owner of this place. He's a former Democrat who went for Trump. We get to talking about the Russian investigation. He believes what the president has tweeted, that there is no collusion. One year after the election, here's what surprises him, that Trump's problems in Congress have come not from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but from Republicans.

GARRY FREDERICK: They have the House. They have the Senate. Schumer can be mouthing off all he wants, which, who cares? We got the majority. All they got to do is get it done.

GREENE: So interesting, Don Gonyea, that voice there. I mean, it sounds like some Trump voters, anything that's gone wrong for the president, blame Congress?

GONYEA: Congress or the media. The blame goes elsewhere, though. And after a year of these conversations, here's what I've learned. Trump's core support is rock-steady, even if I do hear some grumbling from them about his constant need to fuel controversy. Some people say they'd like him to dial it back, but they're with him. And, David, they are happy to give him more time to win what have been, you know, so far elusive legislative victories. And some even predict that in a year this will be a much more smoothly operating machine in the White House.

GREENE: Sounds like it was Don Gonyea kind of trip.

GONYEA: It was always revealing.

GREENE: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thanks.

GONYEA: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.