Geopolitics

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 â€" 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."

High school football, Terre Haute â€" 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.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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