What Makes Armstrong County 'Trump Country?'

Jun 2, 2016

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Chris Potter traveled to Ford City, Pennsylvania to explore the hold Donald Trump has on area residents who feel left behind by the region’s post-industrial economy.

Following Pennsylvania’s primary, Potter analyzed the results and saw that Republican voters in Fayette and Armstrong counties supported Trump in greater numbers than other areas of Western Pennsylvania. A bit more digging led him to Ford City — a factory town established by John D. Ford, the founder of PPG.

“I needed a place that was big enough to have a story to tell, and central enough that I could go and meet people just walking on the street and interact with them there,” Potter said. “It really did seem a great place to tell a certain kind of story about a certain set of Mr. Trump’s supporters.”

Potter said residents of Ford City recognize Trump doesn’t share their background, but his blunt, straightforward approach to politics appeals to them — Trump tells it like it is, residents said.

“Maybe you want to say a politician is just saying what you want to hear, but a lot of these people didn’t feel like anyone was talking to or for them,” Potter said.

When Potter expressed skepticism that Trump would bring back the PPG plant, he was told, “maybe not, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Potter visited Ford City prior to the release of documents regarding Trump University, but he said Trump’s past failures didn’t seem to faze his supporters.  

“You know what, he got bankrupt but he got out of it,” a resident told Potter. “And this country is bankrupt, and we need somebody who is able to figure this stuff out.”

Potter came across union members who are jumping the Democratic Party ship to vote for Trump, including Ford City’s mayor, Jeff Cogley. The mayor sported a United Steelworkers t-shirt as he talked to Potter about backing Trump.

“He said one of the things that stuck with me maybe more than anything else in reporting this story,” Potter said. “He said, ‘I know the Republicans aren’t for the union. But on the other hand, the Republicans aren’t the ones decimating entire industries.’”

Potter said the mayor and others blame President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations for the decimation of the coal industry.  But industry experts attribute the decline to rising competition from natural gas. Residents of Ford City also hold the president accountable for the loss of manufacturing jobs to countries like China despite the bipartisan support for a free trade agenda.   

Potter attributes some of Trump’s success to the low expectations voters have for the Democratic opponents.

“A lot of the people I talked to weren’t necessarily rabid Trump supporters,” Potter said. “They feel as though they have been conditioned not to expect a lot from the existing political class, so let’s roll the dice and give this guy a shot.”

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