When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
eyes on the U.S.

Welcome To The Town That Always Votes For White House Winner

The town in Indiana of Terre Haute is a mix of organized labor and university students, traditional values and growing immigrant communities. It has picked the president the last 15 elections.

The middle lane, Terre Haute, Indiana
The middle lane, Terre Haute, Indiana
Lucie Robequain

TERRE HAUTE For the past 60 years, this town of 60,000 residents in the Midwestern state of Indiana has always voted for the winner of the U.S. presidential election.

Don Campbell, a New York-based journalist, deemed the situation exceptional enough to dedicate one-and-a-half years of his life to make a documentary about the town's bellwether status. Terre Haute, founded by French explorers in the early 18th century, lies on an immense stretch of land filled with corn fields.

"Very few communities are as representative of America," explains Campbell, who moved into a beautiful wooden home in the center of town. "It's an industrial hub that kept strong ties to agriculture. It also has several universities."

Indianapolis, the nearest city, is more than an hour's drive away. The town's industrial past and powerful trade unions mean that the Democratic party often prevailed. But the residents also demonstrate conservative values such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage and support for the rights of gun owners. In the end, local voters tend to swing between the two major parties.

"We don't have the ideological excesses that you'll find in California or New York," says Duke Bennett, the town's Republican mayor. "People here pay more attention to the candidate's common sense than to their political label."

In Terre Haute, supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump are more enthusiastic than Hillary Clinton's fans, who are more restrained in their support, Campbell says. "They tend to hide their voting intentions more than Trump supporters who make themselves heard on every street corner and plant "Vote Trump" signs in their gardens. They are the real activists."

Brenda Wilson is one of such activists. She works 12 hours a day on a farm in Prairieton, south of Terre Haute, where she feeds bison and supervises the harvest of corn. "We have a great work ethic," she says, a confederate flag behind her. "We can't accept people living off welfare. Of course, we have to help retired people and veterans. But not young people who can work. And especially not undocumented immigrants."

One of Wilson's biggest concerns is the spread of heroin in the U.S. Drug overdose is the fastest growing cause of death in the U.S. with 15 deaths per 100,000 Americans compared to nine just a decade ago. That's the same rate as the peak of AIDS deaths in the mid-1990s. But unlike AIDS, overdoses affect mostly rural and white populations.

"I have a neighbor whose son just died overdosing," Wilson says, her eyes filling with tears. "My nephew has two boys, 22 and 24, both addicted to heroin. Everybody knows somebody who takes drugs around here … That's why we need that wall between Mexico and the United States. Donald Trump is the only one who can stop the traffickers."

[rebelmouse-image 27090462 alt="""" original_size="640x427" expand=1]

High school football, Terre Haute — Photo: Bob Stephan

Wilson believes the U.S. is a country of immigrants but says the principles on which the country was built are no longer respected. "My grandmother was Czech and my grandfather was Romanian. They came to the U.S. through Ellis Island. They did everything to assimilate and lose their accent as quickly as possible," she says. "Today's immigrants are completely different. They criticize everything and they want to change the country. Christianity is under threat."

Although 90% of Terre Haute's inhabitants are white, residents say they feel besieged by Mexicans and Muslims. Indeed, many students come from Saudi Arabia because of the university and the Islamic center near the town, and it's not uncommon to see women with veils and men in robes.

Polls can lie

"It's paradoxical because immigration is one of the few things that has saved Indiana. Without immigrants, its population would decline," says Tom Steiger, a sociology professor at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

Steiger, whose father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, studies racism in the U.S. He sees Indiana as a historically racist place. "When I arrived in 1987, I realized that people were even more aggressive towards the black community than in Florida," he says.

Back then, the Ku Klux Klan was well established in Terre Haute. The white supremacist group took part in town festivities such as Labor Day celebrations. Police eventually broke up the group. The local leader of the Ku Klux Klan was sent to jail for illegal use of firearms.

Today, racism is again resurgent. "I'm sure it's growing. Maybe that's why Donald Trump is doing so well in Indiana," Steiger says.

Unemployment in Terre Haute is slightly higher than the rest of the country. Companies keep shutting their factories in the town. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer shuttered a local factory a few years ago that left a huge void. Carrier, a company that produces boilers, recently fired 1,400 people and relocated to Mexico, angering residents. Trump seized the moment by declaring, "If I were in office, Carrier would not be leaving Indiana."

Bennett says of Trump that "he's a normal guy," with a different approach to politics. "He's going to shake things up. He's going to do some good and some bad things. But even the bad stuff, it's still better than nothing," he says. These kinds of words show just how fed up people are with government inaction.

"The country must be managed like a company," says Wilson. "There are too many lobbies blocking reforms. Sure, Donald Trump might have an oversized ego but that's an advantage because he won't accept failure."

Democrats have little confidence in a Clinton victory in Terre Haute. "People have only two words in mind, trust and sincerity. That's what makes Hillary Clinton so unpopular around here. Nobody trusts her," says Campbell.

Matthew Bergbower, a young researcher at the Indiana University, says he's "totally confident" that Hillary Clinton will win the national election. "I'm less confident about her winning in Terre Haute," he says.

The 2016 presidential campaign is so puzzling that Terre Haute residents might be polarized in their vote for the next U.S. president. Terre Haute would then lose its status as an oracle that names the candidate who's heading to the White House.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

Cameron Manley


“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest