Nov 2, 2020

Bloc Party

In the 1996 election, Bill Clinton had a problem. The women who came out in droves for him in ‘92, split their vote in the ‘94 midterms, handing over control of the House and the Senate to the Republican Party. As his team stared ahead at his re-election bid, they knew they had to win those women back. So, after a major polling effort to determine who exactly their undecided ladies were, Clinton turned his focus toward the most important swing vote in the election: the soccer moms. 

The soccer mom ushered in a new era of political campaigning, an era of slicing and dicing the electorate, engineering the (predominately white) voting bloc characters that campaigns have chased after. Security Moms. Nascar Dads. Joe Six Pack. Walmart Moms. 

But what about everyone else? What about the surprisingly swingable corners of this country without a soccer mom in sight?  Inspired by this exceedingly cool interactive map from Politico, we set out on a mission to make an audio-map of our own. We asked pollsters, reporters and political operatives in swing states: what slice of your population is up for grabs? A slice that no one talks about? In this episode, we crawl inside the places that might hold our country’s future in its hands, all the while asking: are these slices even real? Are there people inside them that might swing this election? 

This episode was reported and produced by Becca Bressler, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Tracie Hunte, Pat Walters and Matt Kielty, with help from Jonny Moens.

Special thanks to Darren Samuelsohn, Josh Cochran, Elizabeth Ralph, and the Politico team for the original reporting and map that inspired this episode. 

Also thanks to: Elissa Schneider, Wisam Naoum, Martin Manna, Ashourina Slewo, Eli Newman, Zoe Clark, Erin Roselio, Jess Kamm Broomell, Will Doran, John Zogby, Matt Dickinson, Tom Jensen, Ross Grogg, Joel Andrus, Jonathan Tilove, Steve Contorno, Heaven Hale, Jeff Shapiro, Nicole Cobler, Marie Albiges, Matt Dole, Robin Goist, Katie Paris, Julie Womack, Matt Dole, Jackie Borchardt, Jessica Locklear, Twinkle Patel, Bobby Das, Dharmesh Ahir,  Nimesh Dhinubhai, Jay Desai, Rishi Bagga, and Sanjeev Joshipura.

Christina Greer’s book is Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and Corey Fields book is Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African American.

Original art for this episode by Zara Stasi. Check out her work at:

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at    

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Becca: Lulu?

Lulu: Yes.

Becca: Hello.

Lulu: Hi, can you hear me, okay?

Becca: I can hear you.

Lulu: All right.

Becca: Do you have your orange slices?

Lulu: I've got them.

Becca: I have a confession--

Lulu: Hello, this is Radiolab. I'm Lulu Miller. Recently our producer Becca Bressler told me to call her up and somewhat mysteriously bring orange slices. She said it would help get me in the mood for the story she wanted to tell.

Becca: Where do we start? Months ago, we decided to have this meeting where everyone came to it with monoliths. What are groups that we think of as being monolithic? Every video game player lives in his mom's basement and is a dude. At some point, the idea of soccer moms came up. Of course, I've heard of the phrase, I play soccer, I have a mom, but I got curious about where she came from.

How did she become a monolith? I started poking around. What I learned is that, she was born in the run up to the 1996 presidential election. Bill Clinton is running for re-election. He's the incumbent against Bob Dole, the Republican candidate. The soccer mom was this little slice of voters who helped hand him the election and completely changed the way political campaigns did what they do from that point forward.

Ann: Hello.

Becca: Hi, Ann. I should say, I learned this story from these two women who worked on Bill Clinton's campaign that year.

Ann: I joined formally around Labor Day 1995.

Becca: Ann Lewis, communications director.

Ann: I'm the deputy campaign manager.

Celinda: Hey.

Becca: Can you hear me okay?

Celinda: Yes, I can hear you all right.

Becca: Pollster Celinda Lake.

Celinda: I was brought on to do some special project, including looking at women voters.

Becca: Clinton had won his first term in large part thanks to women voters.

Ann: That's 92.

Becca: Then.

Ann: In 94, drop off. The women who had made a big difference in 92, less likely to vote.

Becca: In 1996, the Clinton campaign needed to convince those women to come back to Clinton. They started thinking like, okay, we can't just say, hey, women, Clinton is your guy. We need a way to focus our message. We need to find a group of undecided women that was large enough to make a difference in the election, but cohesive enough that you could identify key issues they all cared about, and tailor your message to them.

Lulu: Oh, interesting.

Becca: After doing a bunch of polling and research, they landed on--

Celinda: This cluster of women who were moms who lived in suburbia, who tended to be college educated.

Ann: Maybe in their 30s and 40s.

Celinda: Who tended to work outside the home.

Ann: Predominantly white.

Celinda: Were more secular. It was just a cluster of traits.

Becca: But according to the polling, there were a lot, millions of them, and they seemed to be up for grabs.

Celinda: They were the most valuable swing voters.

Becca: Just as they were zeroing in on this massive swayable slice of America, this woman running for city council in Denver-

Celinda: Susan Casey.

Becca: -gave a speech.

Celinda: She said I am a soccer mom running for elections.

Ann: [unintelligible 00:03:48] That's it. That's who these women are.

Celinda: The soccer mom.

Ann: Soccer moms.

Newscaster: At Mission News In depth tonight, the political professionals this year have called them soccer moms. They may be the most influential voters in the country right now. Kelly Anne, tell me what is a soccer mom.

Kelly: The so-called soccer moms are these predominantly white women who live in the suburbs.

Newscaster: They are the most hotly pursued voters in this election.

Becca: The soccer mom became this political force to be reckoned with.

Speaker 4: Get in there Randy.

Newscaster: They may sit on the sidelines at soccer games, but these women are front and center in this year's presidential campaign.

Becca: A force that Ann and Celinda started to harness.

Celinda: Recruit them and talk to them. Get 10 soccer moms in a room.

Becca: Finding out what they wanted and then promising to give it to them. The Clinton campaign started rolling out policies about tobacco advertising.

Bill Clinton: We fought to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco advertising aimed at them.

Newscaster: US President Bill Clinton has unveiled a program designed to keep guns out of the hands of young people.

Becca: Gun Control.

Bill: If it means the teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.

Becca: School uniforms, sometimes just little things that the soccer moms cared about.

Ann: It appears to be working.

Newscaster: Polls show most of these women leaning towards Clinton.

Newscaster: Among them, Bill Clinton has a stunning 28 point lead over Bob Dole.

Becca: On November 5th 1996, Clinton won.

Clinton: Thank you for being here.

Becca: In part, because he walked down the soccer mom vote.

Celinda: He won that yes, he won the soccer mom and it was key to his victory, actually.

Becca: Men split their vote for Dole and Clinton. Women on the other hand, 55% of women voted for Clinton and only 38% of women voted for Bob Dole. Women elected Bill Clinton. What pollsters and strategists would realize over the years is that targeting their campaign messages to ever finer and more specific groups, it works. Over the years who this target was, has mutated. It became the security moms after 911. The Nascar Dads, Joe Six Pack, The Walmart Moms and these voting blocks just kept getting smaller and smaller.

Celinda: Campaigns now have access to so much more information. People are more interested in slicing and dicing and making distinctions.

Becca: For example, as I was doing this soccer mom reporting, I came across this map in Politico. In 2016, they went looking for the new iteration of the soccer mom. You could move your cursor across different swing states, and it would highlight these very specific cutesy named groups of voters. Like in Colorado, you had the newly mortgages, who were people who just bought a house, there were white women of Vegas, lunch pail Catholics, skittish soldiers, battleship makers, Cuban millennials. I just really loved how incredibly specific this map was.

Jay: Jay Leve.

Becca: Hi, Jay. This is Becca Bressler calling from Radiolab. I first just called up a bunch of political strategists and pollsters to get a sense of what would this map look like today? What are the surprising hidden slices out there in today's election?

Jay: The one that I've been using personally, is Trader Joe's Republicans.

Becca: I heard about sunset boomers in Florida.

Lulu: I didn't even know in rural New Mexico, there's a lot of Hispanic cowboy.

Becca: Elderly unsure dairy farmers in Wisconsin.

Jay: I'm looking at three or four interesting groups of voters that I think are very nuanced, very targeted, but at the same time, very influential, very powerful. Let's start with what I call Island Reagan.

Lulu: Okay, Beccs, I see the charm in these names and how the more particular and specific you get with these slices, the more seductive it becomes. At the same time, are these just strategists throwing names on the chaos to give themselves an illusion of control?

Becca: I wonder that too. At the same time, I thought, we're constantly being told the country is solidly divided into two camps, but we also know this place is increasingly diverse. There's just got to be so much more complexity out there. So I just grabbed a few other producers to go peek into some of these slices to see, are these groups real? Are there people in them who could swing this election one way or another? First up is producer Tobin Low.

Lulu: Tobin, what is the name of your slice?

Tobin: I got Trader Joe's Republicans.

Becca: Trader Joe's Republicans. What are they?

Tobin: They are Republicans that are sold in the snack aisle of Trader Joe's. I'm just kidding. No, these are Republican voters specifically in Texas. According to the political strategist who told us about them, they have some preferences that at least I might stereotype as qualities of liberals. They shop at Trader Joe's, they listen to NPR, they may have things in their home that they live, laugh, love, which is so oddly specific.

Becca: It is.

Tobin: A thing that's tripping them up this year is that they are very conflicted about Donald Trump. It was described that they generally don't like him and they're very unsure of how to vote when it comes to the presidency, but they do plan on voting for other downballot Republican issues and to make sure Republicans don't lose Senate seats.

Becca: Is this like a big group? Could they actually sway the vote away from Trump?

Tobin: Nobody is quite sure, but I will say.

Tory: I know I'm not the only one that holds, I'm certainly not the only one that holds these unique set of views.

Tobin: It was not hard to find one.

Tory: My name Is Tory Moreland. I'm actually a political consultant here in Austin, Texas.

Tobin: She calls herself a small-l libertarian.

Tory: I certainly have a Republican voting record.

Lulu: Does she actually shop at trader Joe's?

Tory: I do.

Tobin: She loves the xiao long bao.

Lulu: What is the xiao long bao?

Tory: Soup dumplings that they keep frozen. That's one of my favorite snack.

Tobin: Do you listen to NPR?

Tory: I do. Yes.

Tobin: Do you have anything in your house that says live, laugh, love.

Tory: Oh my God, no [laughs].

Lulu: That's good.

Tobin: She loves or loved the Colbert Report.

Tory: You have to be able to laugh at yourself I find. I think as somebody who works in politics and sees how the sausage is made, you've got to laugh at some of it sometimes

Tobin: The thing that really stood out to me is that her progressive trappings, they don't really stop at the surface level. Climate change, do you believe in climate change?

Tory: Yes, very much so.

Tobin: Do you find yourself in a pro-choice pro-life?

Tory: I am pro-choice but I will admit that's probably not as common.

Tobin: It's interesting for me to hear you talk about these progressive ideas, just because there are things that I'm used to associating more with the Democratic Party. What is it for you that keeps you from being a Democrat?

Tory: If I had to put it into a single item, I would say it's this idea of who is the better provider of solutions and outcomes. I think the Left tends to take this view that government is ultimately the best and most effective way of creating large scale solutions. I feel that's not the case that actually, whether it's the free market or just folks coming together can voluntarily create solutions that are superior.

Tobin: She talks about this conflicted mix of experiences, on the one hand liberal values of Austin are sipping in.

Tory: Austin is such a unique place in the sense that progressive ideas truly like Democrat socialist ideas are the mainstream.

Tobin: On the other hand, she feels her childhood guiding her. She was raised in a very conservative community in Texas.

Tory: The buckle of the Bible Belt.

Tobin: Speaking of buckles and conservatism, she remembers growing up that her dad had this passionate resistance to seatbelt laws.

Tory: That isn't the role of government. He really hankered on this idea of what the role of government is and its limits and why those limits exist and why they're important.

Tobin: How do you feel about Donald Trump?

Tory: I think we'll look back on this moment in history and be saddened by what took place. I think though there's a real danger to the opposite side as well. That wants to take us down a path that I don't think reach the ends that I have in mind that are about maximizing choice.

Lulu: Do you know how she voted in the last election?

Tobin: She didn't vote for president. She did show up to vote for other Republicans and to vote on certain issues she cared about, but she abstained from voting for president.

Lulu: Does she know what she's going to do in this one?

Tory: I've seen a ton of buzz online. This idea of who could possibly be an undecided voter in mid-October of a presidential election, considering who's at the top of the ticket. On the one hand, I say, yes, who would be undecided. Then when I think about myself going to the ballot box and making that decision, I'm very much conflicted. I find myself truly in mid-October in 2020 an undecided voter in terms of the top ticket item for president. I'm not sure if I want to go third-party or sit it out entirely as I did in 2016.

Lulu: Producer Tobin Low. Next up Sarah Qari. Hi.

Sarah Qari: Hi Lou.

Lulu: What slice did you pick? What is the name of your slice?

Sarah: The slice that I dove into is the Patel motel cartel.

Lulu: Patel motel cartel.

Sarah: Yes, exactly. Have you heard that term before?

Participant: Yes, I have.

Participant: Yes.

Participant: I've read the whole article on that, Patel motel cartel before.

Sarah: The name comes from this New York Times article about Indian American hotel owner.

Twinkle: My name is Twinkle Patel and I own hotels.

Sarah: Is that offensive?

Patel: I don't really find that offensive personally.

Participant: I don't find it offensive.

Sarah: Do you feel you're like a member of the Patel motel cartel?

Participant: Absolutely. Why not?

Participant: Yes, I am.

Lulu: Wait, what exactly is the Patel motel cartel?

Sarah: It turns out something half of all motels in the United States are owned by Indian Americans.

Lulu: Whoa. Half of what? Tens of thousands of motels.

Sarah: Yes and then 70% of those people all have the last name Patel which is a common surname in the Indian state of Gujarat, which is where a lot of these people's families happen to originate from.

Participant: It was a very viable business to go into.

Participant: They can live on-site, they can run the property, they can minimize expenses. They don't have to pay rent.

Participant: Hotels require a lot of labor. Often with our Indian, South Asian families, we have our built-in labor force, which is our family.

Sarah: Also the people who run these hotels and motels, stand out from the larger Indian American voting block. Recent polling has shown that almost three-quarters of Indian Americans are voting Democratic in this election.

Lulu: Wow, I didn't realize it was that high.

Patel: A lot of these hotel owners that I talked to--

Participant: I’m in Minneapolis.

Participant: Tuscon, Arizona

Sarah: Many of them-

Participant: Columbus, Ohio.

Lulu: -in swing States.

Participant: Orlando, Florida.

Participant: Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

Participant: I already put my vote in, I went all red.

Lulu: They are swinging hard for Trump.

Participant: I voted for Trump.

Participant: Definitely the Republican side.

Participant: We've seen huge savings when we did our taxes after Trump got elected.

Participant: The center of my universe is my hotels, my livelihood, and my work.

Participant: This only president who came up from the hotel industry, so he knows.

Participant: The fact that he's singed the front of a paycheck and not just the back of a paycheck.

Participant: Not only singed the back of a check, he's also signed the front of a check.

Sarah: There's this big group of Indian American hotel owners, peppered all over swing States, lots of whom appear to be supporting Trump. The reason I found this slice so interesting, the reason it feels a slice that could really swing an election is because it also contains guys like Meho.

Meho: Meho Patel.

Sarah: Meho lives in Minnesota.

Meho: I have lived in Minneapolis for the last six years.

Sarah: He owns a bunch of hotels with his family in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Meho: Minneapolis, Rochester, and throughout Wisconsin.

Sarah: His parents bought their first motel when he was 11-years-old.

Meho: It was a small motel, it was off the interstate that went between Milwaukee and Green Bay, it was called Parkway Motel.

Sarah: That's where he grew up.

Meho: When I was just going into high school. I remember most people were like, "Oh, what are you doing this weekend?" I was like, "Oh, well, I'm helping clean rooms."

Sarah: He'd be helping fold towels, repainting the beige walls.

Meho: In the summers, I remember having an outdoor pool that I would help my dad maintain vacuuming the pool.

Sarah: Eventually as he got older.

Meho: As we saved money.

Sarah: His family buys more motels.

Sarah: A little bit bigger properties.

Sarah: Then once he finish his college.

Meho: I took over the business and grew it.

Sarah: Today is this huge business. They own 12 hotels. When we started talking about the election.

Meho: A lot of us small business owners are only looking at how it affects their business. This is our bread and butter. This businesses is my parents' 401(k).

Meho: I was expecting him to echo some of the things I'd heard earlier about liking Trump's tax cuts or opposing Biden's proposal for a federal $15 minimum wage.

Meho: Historically usually we've leaned Republican.

Sarah: You mean you and your family?

Meho: Correct. This year it's a little different with everything going on.

Sarah: The pandemic has just crushed his business.

Meho: We were down 90% in the month of April and May compared to previous, April and May.

Sarah: Now--

Meho The more that I read how COVID-19 was dealt with, did our administration know months in advance that this was coming?

Sarah: He's filled with all of these questions.

Meho: Why wasn't there a travel ban? Why weren't we taking the proper measurements to try to deescalate it?

Sarah: As a result.

Meho: I think a year ago, I would say Trump would be my choice, but what's happened.

Lulu: Now he's not so sure. It's not just the pandemic.

Meho: A lot of it is immigration. Trump's immigration policies are tougher than what Biden will have.

Sarah: The Trump administration has tightened restrictions on H-1B visas, which, historically, have been really important for Indian American immigrants.

Meho: Joe Biden deals with that immigration policy a little bit better, but Biden also hasn't said much about how he's going to help small businesses.

Sarah: As our conversation went on, he kept swinging back and forth.

Meho: Does Biden have some good things for the future as far as healthcare, and climate change, and education, yes. If we don't get out of this and I have to start over with our businesses, that's a big blow to us.

Sarah: Then again--

Meho: Again, Trump has a little bit more of that business mind.

Lulu: You witnessed the sloshing back and forth in real-time.

Sarah: Totally. From what he says, he's not alone.

Meho: The other part, it sounds silly, but I'm part of this WhatsApp groups-

Sarah: -With other hotel owners.

Meho: Every day reading other people's views on it, it's like, "Oh, wow, I didn't look at it like that. Oh, wow, I didn't read it like that."

Sarah: Are going to hold your nose and vote for one or the other?

Meho: I have not made the decision. I'm still trying to see how things turn out. I know we're getting down to the wire, but every day is huge with what comes up and how they're speaking. I think it's going to be a game-time decision.

Sarah: I would love to find out what you decide in the end. I'm on the edge of my seat.

Meho: It's next month but it's unpredictable. We don't know.

Lulu: Producer, Sarah Qari. Next up, Tracie Hunte. Tracie, which slice did you pick?

Tracie: I guess I picked in the absence. You looked at that list that Becca put together and you notice that they're not really talking about Black people. That's because, when it comes to the Black vote, posters don't really give us cute nicknames. They just lump us all together and I get it.

Christina: Every four years, we see roughly 90% of Black Americans voting for the Democratic candidate.

Tracie: This is Christina Greer.

Christina: I'm an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University.

Tracie: While the history of the Black vote in this country is super complicated, she says the main reason for this is pretty simple.

Christina: If you look at the policies of the Republican Party, they have been, in the more recent history, a more white nationalistic ideology, which a lot of Black people reject, obviously, because it's anti-Black.

Tracie: The problem with treating the Black vote as a block, she says is--

Christina: It's just not. There are hardcore leftist-progressives, there are folks in the middle, and then there's serious conservatives. Black folks, they're just seen as this lump, but there's a lot of action going on there.

Tracie: She told me about one politician who ran a campaign that, in a way, proved that point.

Chris: Good morning everybody. Thank you for being here. I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States.

Tracie: Chris Christie. Before he joined team Trump, Christie was Governor of New Jersey. In his second race for that job in 2013, something crazy happened. He got nearly a quarter of the Black vote, 21%. Wow, were you surprised by the 21%?

Mike: Yes, we felt quite good about it. I think we more than doubled our percentage among African Americans.

Tracie: Why don't you go ahead and just introduce yourself?

Mike: Sure. I'm Mike DuHaime. I have worked for campaigns big and small, worked for President George W. Bush, I worked for Senator John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Governor Christie's races.

Tracie: What happened, how did the Christie campaign do it?

Christina: He did a ton of events in majority Black towns and cities.

Mike: I remember him doing a town hall meeting Irvington, New Jersey, which is right outside of the borders on Newark and he did that all over the place.

Tracie: He got endorsements from Black politicians.

Mike: There's one short visual of him hugging an African American Democratic mayor.

Tracie: Also, got an endorsement from a prominent Black Democratic minister.

Bishop Reginald: Bishop Reginald Jackson.

Tracie: Why did you support Chris Christie?

Bishop Reginald: I was very strong on the education issue. He was very supportive of giving parents a choice in making sure that their children got a good education.

Shaquille: I don't endorse many politicians, but Chris Christie is different.

Mike: We also did a commercial with Shaquille O'Neal.

Shaquille: He's a good man, excuse me, he's a great man. Please, join me in supporting Chris Christie.

Tracie: There's this one other thing too which meant a lot to me personally as a Black woman. When Whitney Houston died the year before, Chris Christie ordered all the flags in the state lowered to half-mast. Even when there was a backlash, he didn't back down. You add that all up, and twice as many Black people, as usual, came out to vote for the Republican. You might be wondering, "Who were they?"

We can't really know for sure who they all were, obviously. For the sake of doing the thing that none of these political consultants ever seem to do for Black people, let's try to visualize the Black voters Christie was trying to win over. Of course, you've got your Black Republicans, and according to Sociologist Corey Fields.

Corey: There is a fair amount of variation among Black Republicans.

Tracie: Some of them don't think about race when it comes to politics, but some do.

Corey: Race-conscious Black Republicans, for them, race is central to how they understand their lives. Something like school vouchers, a race-conscious Black Republican would say, "I support school vouchers because they empower Black parents to make decisions about their child's education. Who knows what's best for Black children, their parents, or some white administrator on the school board?"

Tracie: Some Black Republicans support Trump.

Participant: I'm glad that President Trump is more reserved as far as trying to do interventionism, and I also appreciate his push to make us energy-independent.

Tracie: Some do not.

Participant: While I'm a Republican, and I'm basically an independent until Trump leaves office.

Tracie: That's the Black Republicans, okay, but there are also some more swingable slices.

Bishop Reginald: When I was in New Jersey, I would tell everybody that I was a Democrat with an open mind.

Tracie: This, of course, is Bishop Reginald Jackson, and Christie wasn't the first Republican he endorsed. He even voted for Nixon.

Bishop Reginald: I think Blacks need to vote in their best interests.

Tracie: When Christie ran for president-

Chris: They've been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers.

Participant: Individuals have, but the Black Lives Matter is about--

Chris: Listen, that's what the movement is creating.

Bishop Reginald: I thought it was absolutely untrue and irresponsible.

Tracie: -he didn't support him.

Lulu: We've got a couple of kinds of Black Republicans, we've got the Democrat with an open mind, any others?

Tracie: Yes.

Christina: I think the inconsistent voters or maybe 'that cousin'.


Christina: It's like, "I'm abstaining because it's the lesser of two evils." I would call him 'that cousin'.

Tracie: That cousin.

Participant: I actually don't vote at all.

Tracie: Why is that?

Participant: I don't feel as if politics is for us as far as Republican and Democrat. I always feel like just neither party is for us.

Tracie: Who else?

Christina: The Southern grannies.

Tracie: Older Black women?

Christina: Yes.

Tracie: Very involved in their communities, church-going, staunch Democrats-

Minnie: I've always voted Democrat.

Christina: -and vote consistently. They've never missed an election.

Minnie: My name is Minnie Smith. I'm 90 years old, and I'm in Houston, Texas. I vote every time it's time to vote.

Christina: Those elections where people win with 2000 votes, those are the Southern granny.

Lulu: Producer, Tracie Hunte. Radiolab will be back in a moment.

Lulu: Radiolab, talking about voting blocks, voting slices.

Becca: Slices. Yes, they're now slices.

Lulu: Becca, you took a couple of your own to chase down, right?

Becca: Yes, I did.

Lulu: Okay, who did you look into?

Becca: Wait, hold on one second. Is that a fire alarm?

Lulu: I know. I heard it. I did it sounded very--

Becca: I've never heard that noise before.

Lulu: Oh, yes, you should go find that. It sounds like a smoke detector.

Becca: Yes, hold on. God damn it. Okay, one second. It's so high.

Lulu: Would a broom be able to--?

Becca: Yes.


Becca: Oh, fuck yes. Oh shit, I literally broke it. Oh my God. Lulu.

Lulu: Yes.

Becca: Well, this is actually a perfect little segue into our next one, where I guess you could say things don't go as you planned.

Lulu: All right. Where are we going for this one?

Becca: We are going to what I think we think of as the heartland of America, the heartland of manufacturing, and specifically to the headquarters of Goodyear Tires.

Lulu: Oh okay. Why exactly are we here?

Becca: Well, so I had reached out to a political consultant in Ohio who said that I should go look at Republicans up and around the Akron area, who work for Goodyear Tires. I went looking for what we're calling a don't tread on me, Republican.

Lulu: The pun there is on tread like tire treads?

Becca: Yes, tire tread, don't tread on me, tread tire.

Lulu: Got it.

Becca: Who are potentially up for grabs, and might swing against Trump, because of a tweet.

Bob: Hello.

Becca: Hi Bob.

Bob: Yes.

Becca: Hi, how are you?

Bob: Good, how are you?

Becca: I first called at this guy Bob Shroff.

Bob: I work for Goodyear, I'm 48 years old, married with two kids.

Becca: So Goodyear has about 64,000 employees and Bob started out-

Bob: Working on these massive machines.

Becca: -making rubber for all these different car parts, tires, suspensions. How long have you worked at Goodyear for?

Bob: I’ve been at Goodyear for 27 years. I got hired in July of 1993.

Becca: Are you the first in your family to be a Goodyear employee or does it stretch back?

Bob: No, ma'am. My grandfather worked there, my dad worked there, they're both retired. I work there now along with my brother, my grandmother actually worked there as well as my great grandmother.

Becca: Oh my god.

Bob: It's a long history, it's treated my family very well.

Becca: The Tweet. August 19th, 2020 so just a couple of months ago. Trump tweets, “Don't buy,” like should I pretend to be Trump. I don't know either his emphasis is important maybe so let me try again. “Don't buy-“

Lulu: Please try to be Trump.

Becca: No I, how would I even do this, “Don't” I'm not going to do it. Okay, “Don't buy Goodyear Tires,” they announced a ban on Maga hats, “Get better tires for far less.” This is what the radical left Democrats do to complete the same game, and we have to start playing it now.

Lulu: Wow.

Bob: I saw it, and was furious, just furious over it.

Becca: Because for Bob, he's like, “First of all, look, Goodyear has a policy and they've always had a policy.”

Bob: That political clothing headwear-

Becca: Gear.

Bob: -buttons anything and like has always been, not appropriate at Goodyear.

Becca: The idea that Goodyear was just like singling out Maga hats.

Bob: Was just simply not true.

Becca: Bob said to really understand why someone like him was so furious about this tweet. You have to understand Akron, Ohio.

Bob: Yes so back in those days--

Becca: Back around the turn of the century Akron got the nickname The rubber capital of the world.

Bob: All of the big rubber manufacturers were headquartered here.

Becca: Not only did you have Goodyear.

Bob: We had Firestone.

Becca: BFGoodrich.

Bob: General Tire, Mohawk Rubber.

Becca: In Akron, you have these neighborhoods like--

Bob: Goodyear Heights, Firestone had Firestone Park.

Becca: Schools.

Bob: No we have Firestone High School, we have Seiberling Grade School, those are all rubber names.

Becca: If you went downtown there was a factory or a shop.

Bob: From one of those rubber companies just about on every corner.

Becca: This area just has the tire industry in its DNA, but then jump ahead to the mid-90s.

Clinton: There was no turning back from the world of today and tomorrow.

Becca: President Clinton signs NAFTA.

Bob: The North American Free Trade Agreement.

Becca: Which as we know now sent a lot of manufacturing jobs to Mexico and out of the country.

Bob: Overtime.

Becca: Bob said in Akron.

Bob: The shops close up.

Becca: Thousands of people lost their jobs.

Bob: It's nothing like it used to be.

Becca: Then, 2016, Donald Trump.

Trump: It's great to be in Ohio, I love this state.

Becca: Who campaigned in Akron, campaigned to make America great again.

Bob: And--

Trump: Bring back your jobs.

Bob: Bring back all those American jobs.

Trump: That have been taken from your state and every other state in the Union.

Becca: Jump ahead.

Newscaster: Real major projection-

Becca: Trump takes Ohio.

Newscaster: Donald Trump will take, Ohio.

Becca: In large part, because he picked up these Republican votes because he said he was going to get out of NAFTA, he was going to protect American jobs. Then four years later he writes this tweet.

Bob: For a sitting President of the United States to call for a boycott of one of the oldest tire manufacturers in America. It's shameful, too shameful.

Lulu: Is the idea here that Bob is republican but now he just can't with Trump because of the tweet or?

Becca: Well, I guess I should just come out and say it, Bob is actually not a don’t tread on me, Republican. Bob is a don't tread on me, Democrat.

Bob: I won't predict a win for Joe Biden in Ohio but I hope he wins Ohio, because if he wins Ohio it's over for Trump.

Becca: Bob explained to me, he's been a lifelong Democrat.

Bob: It's generally Democrats that are more worker-friendly.

Becca: Bob is a union guy.

Bob: My grandfather was in the Union. My dad was in the Union.

Becca: Bob is in the Union, and therefore, typically votes Democrat.

Lulu: Is Bob, like an outlier?

Becca: No.

Bob: I would say that there's more Biden supporters in the shop than there are Trump supporters.

Becca: Because Bob said a lot of his co-workers are pro-union.

Bob: If you're a strong union supporter, I don't understand how you could support Donald Trump.

Lulu: Is this just a case of like your political strategists made a misassumption.

Becca: Yes. There definitely are blue-collar workers in Ohio, who voted for Trump, who might turn against him because they don't think he delivered on his promises, that's definitely a thing. I do think the assumption here was just that these Goodyear employees that are also predominantly white, they work in manufacturing, that they all would have been Trump supporters, and that just doesn't entirely hold. Well, Bob, I'm wondering, do you know anyone who is pro-Trump and is now going Biden because of this tweet.

Bob: Well, I do know that a friend of mine who I believe is a Trump leaning type person. I do believe it did change, at least his mind.

Becca: Hello, Scotty.

Scotty: Hello.

Becca: Hi. How are you?

Scotty: Not too bad. How about yourself?

Becca: The friend is Scott Oswald, also known as Scotty. Can you tell me a bit about how you and Bob know each other? How do you guys strike up a friendship?

Scotty: Well, I tattooed one of his sons, probably about six years ago.

Becca: Oh, really?

Scotty: Yes.

Becca: Scotty doesn't work at Goodyear. He is a tattoo artist.

Scotty: I met, pretty much his entire family that night.

Becca: He has tattooed Bob sons and Bob and his wife too.

Scotty: We just kind of all struck up a friendship.

Becca: Do you feel like you became a part of their family? Would you go have dinner with them or hang out at their house or anything?

Scotty: Oh yes. Absolutely, for sure.

Becca: Scotty told me when he heard about Trump's tweet.

Scotty: I don't know. I didn't really get it and to me, I just took it personally because it affected so many people that I knew.

Becca: Soon after he texted Bob.

Scotty: I hit him up, I was like, “Hey, what are your thoughts on this?”

Bob: I said, “I felt like he acted like a 14-year-old child,” in my eyes he looks like a boy.

Scotty: Then I finally was just kind of like, “Well,“

Becca: I actually could use some new tires.

Bob: He wanted to know if I could give them a discount on Goodyear Tires. Because he wanted to run right out and support Goodyear.

Scotty: I just want to support a local company, and I want to support my friend's business.

Becca: He did, he took his car to the shop. Bob, using his company discount got Scotty, four new tires, and that was that.

Lulu: That's a really sweet gesture.

Scotty: Yes but I mean--

Becca: Then we got into it, and we started talking politics and I said, “Scotty, Bob says your Trump leaning, that's how he described you. Is that how you would characterize yourself or at least like in 2016. Is that how you would have characterized yourself?” and he says.

Scotty: No.

Becca: Do you have any idea why Bob might have suspected you were Trump leaning.

Scotty: I do not know. He might have just taken a guess.

Becca: He guessed wrong. Scotty actually isn't a voter, he's never voted before in an election. He’s never been-

Lulu: Really, ever?

Becca: Yes.

Scotty: I kept thinking like, “It's not important. It doesn't matter. My vote doesn't really count.”

Becca: He says, since 2016.

Scotty: I feel like that we've taken a giant step backwards, as far as community, and just being civil.

Becca: He feels like Trump is dividing our country?

Scotty: I believe, so yes. I'm definitely hitting up the polls because I feel like that it's more important this time than it's been in quite some time.

Becca: I asked him who are you going to vote for?

Scotty: I'd rather not say but I think you know who I'm not going to vote for.

Becca: He was a little hesitant and cagey, which is weird, just like process of elimination here.

Lulu: Right.

Becca: Like, obviously, he's going to vote for Biden.

Scotty: Yes, but I mean--

Becca: We kept talking, and eventually Scotty was like-

Scotty: I was really into Andrew Yang and I was disappointed that they didn't really give him a good platform to express what he wanted to do--

Becca: For Scotty, what he's going to do is when he votes for the first time in this election, he's going to write in probably Andrew Yang.

Lulu: All right, didn't see that one coming.

Becca: Neither did I. Reporting on this, I've come to really appreciate just how hard it is to put people in some group because you make all these assumptions that can just get upended.

Lulu: Right.

Becca: This next story is actually a pretty extreme version of that. Okay, the slice is the Chaldean American community in Michigan.

Crystal: Metro Detroit is home to the largest concentration of Chaldeans outside of the Middle East which is about 160,000.

Becca: This is Crystal Cassaviro, she's a middle school teacher. What grade do you teach?

Crystal: Fifth.

Becca: Oh my God, teenagers are not fun.

Crystal: I beg to differ, I do love them.

Becca: Crystal told me the Chaldeans are indigenous to Iraq, started immigrating to the US in the early 20th century to work the Ford plants which is why so many of them live in Michigan. The community is overwhelmingly Catholic.

Francis: We are heavily invested in the Roman Catholic church.

Becca: This is Francis which is a Pseudonym, I'll explain why later. How old are you?

Francis: 52.

Becca: Crystal he's lived in the Detroit area for most of his life.

Francis: I own a body shop that works on commercial vehicles like Semi-trucks and trailers.

Becca: He says the catholic religion is a major part of the Chaldeans identity. For one thing, it's a huge part of why so many of them live in the US in the first place.

Francis: In Iraq, 99% of the population is Muslim. At one time there were 2.5 million Chaldeans in Iraq and ever since ISIS did a lot of damage to Chaldeans villages, there's only a couple hundred thousand left.

Becca: Being catholic when it comes to politics, he says abortion is a big issue.

Francis: To us you respect life and then you honor it. You honor that person, but life always comes first.

Becca: Because of that, most of the Chaldeans typically vote Republican. When the 2016 election came around--

Crystal: I just kept going--

Becca: Crystal says.

Crystal: -back and forth in my head and I said, "Well--

Becca: She didn't love Trump but--

Crystal: I said, "I'm just going to do the Catholic vote and I voted for Trump."

Becca: So did most of the rest of the Chaldeans community. It's worth noting actually that Trump only won Michigan by 10,000 votes. Especially because of this one area, Macomb county, where there is a large Chaldean American population.

Lulu: How many again are there? Did you say Chaldeans in Michigan?

Becca: There are about 160,000 Chaldeans.

Lulu: Wow.

Becca: The Chaldeans definitely helped get Donald Trump elected in 2016, but then something happened that complicated things.

Crystal: It was June, 11th, 2017.

Becca: It was a Sunday.

Crystal: It was a very busy day for my family, we went--

Becca: Crystal spent the morning running from thing to thing, Church, a soccer game-

Crystal: Then my daughter had a piano recital.

Becca: -a communion party.

Crystal: Then we went to the soccer banquet. It was boom, boom, boom one thing after another from eight o'clock in the morning.

Becca: She gets home at around 7:45 PM.

Crystal: I said, "Let me put some pictures up from the communion party."

Becca: She goes to Facebook to upload some pictures.

Crystal: Once I got on Facebook, I saw all these videos of people down at the federal building, downtown-

Becca: Screaming and crying.

Crystal: -saying, "Let him go, let him go.

Becca: She sees a video of a man--

Crystal: Being detained with an IV on him."

Newscaster: ICE officers had fanned out across the area detaining Chaldeans.

Francis: Oh, my heart fell. This is it, this is what we've been worried about.

Lulu: What happened?

Becca: It's complicated but ICE picked up a whole bunch of Chaldeans because of a change the Trump administration made to their arrangement with Iraq when it comes to certain non-citizen Chaldeans in the united states.

Lulu: How many people got detained?

Becca: About 200.

Lulu: Wow.

Becca: The question is that, these detentions of Chaldeans could this have soured enough people in this community to vote against him? Maybe Michigan could swing back to Biden, because remember there are only 10,000 votes that made the difference in 2016.

Lulu: Okay, wow.

Becca: Crystal for her part, she sprung right into action. She went down to the local high school, started connecting people with legal aid.

Crystal: I remember seeing a girl and I looked and I said, "What are you doing here?" She said, "My mom was detained." I said, "What?" This is a girl I had went to high school with, she was just shaking and she was nervous, she just didn't know what to do. I guess you see these things and they happen to other people. They happen to other people, we hear the deportations that happen all the time of course to our Mexican brothers and sisters and we never seem to think it's going to touch us.

Becca: Did you feel responsible in any way?

Crystal: I did, I know and I beat myself up for it for a long time. That's why I worked so hard since then to vote him the hell out, to elect a real leader, a man like Joe Biden.

Becca: Now Francis, he didn't so much spring into action.

Francis: I just took off.

Becca: He fled.

Francis: They knew where I lived.

Becca: Francis actually-

Francis: I am not a citizen.

Becca: -is more or less hiding from ICE right now.

Francis: Oh I am, yes I am. Like any car that pulls up, I'm watching my cameras more than my TV. I get paranoid if a car pulls up, I don't know if it's them, I don't know if they found out, I don't know, I just don't take any chance, I don't leave home for two or three days.

Becca: Does the fear impact you in other ways? I mean do you have trouble sleeping?

Francis: Oh my gosh. I was so bad that I had nightmares every night, that people were grabbing me, agents. I was up but I couldn't stop them. I felt like I was up but I was paralyzed, and that was every single night. The worst part is I'll hear them breaking down the door, they're coming, I can feel hands grabbing my arm trying to get me, and I can't move and it's all just a nightmare.

Becca: If Biden were to get elected, do you think that you would stop hiding?

Francis: I think that there wouldn't be this initiative to try to remove us, so I would not be in fear. No, I don't think I would be.

Becca: Who do you support for president?

Francis: Trump.

Becca: Can you help me understand that?

Francis: I will help you. This is humility, I don't care about myself. I care more about conservative values and for this country more than myself. If I have to suffer because of my beliefs, I will.

Becca: Is the idea then that you believe in prioritizing unborn life over living Chaldean Americans in your community?

Francis: Yes, I do. What can happen to our lives, we're not being killed. We may be moved around or having to go suffer a little bit until we find a country that will accept us and live, but that's doable, that's not death, that's not the same as abortion, that's not the same thing. It could be possible death, in Iraq it could be, but I'm just not willing to do that. I'm not willing to sacrifice my beliefs.


Lulu: Producer Becca Bressler. This episode was produced by Becca Bressler, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Pat Walters, with help from Johnny Moens. Also if you feel like you belong to a special voting block that has not been mentioned here or in the media anywhere, think about it, come up with a name and send us the name of that block on Twitter, on Facebook and maybe take this episode as a reminder that whatever happens in the next few days and weeks beneath the political parties, are people.

[music] Special thanks to Darren Samuelsohn who's now at Business Insider and the team at Politico, illustrator Josh Cochran whose 2016 map inspired this episode. Ferdinand Omondi, Tex Dozier, Susan Carol, Lana Atkinson, Jay Levi, Geraldo Cadava, Matt Cutts, Verlaine Williams, Miss Pamela, Nadaj Green, Dale Peron, Vin Arceneaux, and Aaron "Wiki Wiki Wiki" Wickenton. Thanks for listening.


Jake Allen: Hi, this is Jake Allen calling from Winona, Minnesota. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Tobin Low, Annie McEwen, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Sarah Sandbach, and Johnny Means. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris. Thank you.


Copyright © 2020 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.