Stark County, An Ohio Bellwether, Reflects Contradictions Of A Divided Electorate
Stark County, Ohio, with its diverse population and mix of farm and industry, was once seen as the bellwether of the nation. That status hasn’t held up as America’s demographics have shifted.
But Stark County can still be viewed as a microcosm for Ohio’s political diversity, and as Election Day approaches, it demonstrates that demographics don’t always drive politics.
I talked with voters in three voter blocks in urban, rural and suburban Stark County, starting with Diane Neal in North Canton. She’s a white suburban voter, a demographic that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House four years ago.
Neal, however, did not vote for Trump in 2016, and adamantly opposes him this time around. For her, it’s because of how he treats people, especially immigrants.
“The cruelty, and the hateful things he says. He’s been so divisive,” Neal says.
She says the Trump administration policy of child separation at the U.S. border is particularly saddening.
“Maybe it’s because I’m the child of an immigrant," Neal said, "but to separate these children, who don't know where they are, or where their parents are, and don't know the language, that is incredibly cruel.”
Neal has a Biden sign in her front yard, one of several on her picturesque North Canton street. Around the corner, though, Trump signs dominate.
Most poll watchers believe Donald Trump has lost some of his former suburban support, but many wealthy parts of Stark County remain steadfastly loyal.
Next door in Canton, you can almost forget there’s an election pitting neighbor against neighbor. People here are going about their lives, perhaps more concerned with the struggles to make ends meet than who sits in the White House.
On the city’s north side, though, I spot a "Pro-Life for Trump" sign in front of a stately brick home. It belongs to Darleen Moss.
“I am a Trump supporter because he supports what I believe in," Moss said. "He’s a promise keeper. He does what he says he’s going to do.”
Moss was initially attracted by Trump’s outsider status.
“We needed a wrecking ball, it was so bad,” she said, referring to the Obama administration's support for gay marriage and other liberal policies.
She’s not bothered by the way Trump stirs factionalism.
“I think we needed the division, quite frankly," she said. "I think we needed things to come to the top, the emotions, the feelings, the anger, it had to come up.”
And as a Black voter, she doesn’t blame him for enflaming racial tensions.
“I get tired of them lying on him," Moss said. "He’s not a racist."
As proof, she cites a $40 billion minority investment plan Trump put forward last month, among other initiatives.
“President Trump has come through for Black people," Moss said, "but Black people who are Democrats don’t know that because they watch the mainstream media. They don’t find out the truth. They don’t even believe it when someone tells them the truth.”
Moss said she loves Trump, adding, “I believe he’s God’s man for this time."
Trump Country In Rural Stark County
Moss’s faith in the president may be unusual in her Canton neighborhood, but in rural Stark County, Trump flags ripple across the landscape. Elaborate front lawn displays vilify Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. A "Drain the Swamp" sign sits in a soggy corn field.
But on a hilly road near Minerva, I spot one Biden/Harris sign. Martin Chapman says it’s actually number 11.
“We’ve had 10 signs stolen,” he said. That includes his "Another Veteran for Biden" sign planted next to an American flag.
"It got stolen that night," Chapman says.
Chapman served during the Vietnam War and has lived on these 60 acres for nearly 50 years. The sign stealing, he says, is new.
“Let’s face it, we’re polarized,” said Chapman, who blames the president. “All he can do is create worsening divisions, and in doing so create a world of us and them.”
Stark County is split with around 9% of its roughly 250,000 registered voters identifying as Democrat and around 13% as Republican. The rest, on paper at least, are independents.
Chapman says he’s split tickets for years, but he says Trump’s character is taking the country down a dangerous path.
“To dissemble and lie, and lie and dissemble, and lie and dissemble some more is undermining the fabric of democracy,” Chapman said.
And frankly, he’s a little frightened.
“Our democracy’s at stake,” he said.
Stark County has picked the president all but two times since 1964, so it’s not a perfect bellwether, but it does reflect the heightened feelings this election is eliciting. And if it does go blue, you can be almost assured, so will Ohio and the nation.