The Voices of Voters From One of America’s Most Reliable Bellwether Counties

By Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is a former reporter for The Epoch Times.
April 22, 2022Updated: May 4, 2022

VIGO COUNTY, Ind.—When it comes to being a good indicator of voting for the winning presidential candidate, Vigo County in west Indiana is “The Real Thing.”

That was the advertising slogan Coca-Cola had in the 1970s, which perhaps is appropriate for what’s considered to be the most reliable bellwether county in the United States.

The county seat of Vigo County is Terre Haute (pop. 60,673), and it’s the birthplace of the iconic contour Coca-Cola bottle that has been featured on many of the soft drink’s signs and ads since 1915.

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Chapman Jay Root, who owned the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, and a team of his workers designed the Coca-Cola contour bottle in 1915. The bottle is considered to be the most recognizable container in the world. Vigo County, where the bottle was designed, is also known as the most reliable bellwether county in the United States. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Since 1888, Vigo County has missed voting for the presidential winner just three times—in 1910, when it supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan over Republican William Howard Taft; in 1952, when it picked Democrat Adlai Stevenson over Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower; and in 2020, when it selected Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden, 24,545 votes to 18,123 votes.

For 60 years, Vigo County hit the mark in 16 straight presidential elections, from 1956 to 2016, perhaps showing that Democrats and Republicans vote in sync for whoever they believe would do the best job in the Oval Office.

However, while 18 of the 19 top bellwether counties in the United States had a perfect record between 1980 and 2016, there was only one that got it right in 2020—Clallam County in Washington state. Biden defeated Trump there and ultimately became president.

In the 2016 Presidential Election, Trump won Vigo County by defeating Hilary Clinton 21,937 votes to 15,931 votes.

Nestled in the heart of the heartland in the Midwest, the county seat of Terre Haute is literally at the Crossroads of America. Wabash Avenue and 7th Street in the city’s downtown was the original gateway to the west and part of the Federal Highway Transportation System in 1926.

The county’s smaller cities include West Terre Haute, North Terre Haute, Tecumseh, Allendale, and Toad Hop (pop. 216).

More than 90 years ago, the railroad tracks near the Wabash River were the inspiration for the song “The Wabash Cannonball,” which is about the roar and rumble of a mythical train that takes hobos on their last ride and carried their souls to heaven. The tune remains a signature song of the Indiana State University Sycamores and the Purdue All-American Marching Band.

The song, which was made popular by country singer Roy Acuff, is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 songs that shaped rock and roll, and it’s the oldest song on the list.

The area also was the home of Eugene V. Debs, a champion for workers’ rights who ran for president as a socialist five times in the early 20th century, and the home of Indiana State University and the Candles Holocaust Museum.

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Since 1888, Vigo County residents have voted for the presidential candidate that has won the White House most of the time. Vigo County has only missed the mark three times since then—in 1910, 1952, and in 2020—when 18 of the 19 top bellwether counties supported Donald Trump, but missed the mark. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Vigo County, which has a population of slightly more than 107,000, also supported Trump in the 2016 election. The median age in the county is 36 years old, and the median household income is $52,364 as it holds steady with an unemployment rate of slightly less than 2 percent, according to information from Vigo County. The median home price in the county is $130,000 and has risen slightly over the past two years.

Now, during the second year of Biden in the White House, residents are feeling the belt of inflation tightening, and it’s expected to get worse.

People are beginning to cut back on food at the grocery store. Gas prices are hovering at about $4 per gallon in the county as the U.S. oil reserves are being used.

The contents being loaded from shopping carts into vehicles were reduced as residents with good incomes or retirees with good jobs in the past spoke about reconfiguring their budgets because of getting much less bang for their buck.

Unlike many counties in other states, the Indiana Elections Board doesn’t divide up its county’s political parties by its 73,419 registered voters.

“In Indiana, you’re a voter,” said an employee of the Vigo County Elections Board. “We don’t divide it up. In our primary elections, you don’t have to vote along party lines. You can vote the way you want.”

Like most mid-sized cities during the first half of the 20th century, many of Terre Haute’s companies and manufacturers were household names—Clabber Girl Baking Soda, Pillsbury, Sony, Columbia House which made records and tapes, the Root Glass Company, Stran Steel, and Bemis which made plastic bags. There were also the factories that lined the Wabash River, which is now seeing some waterfront development.

But many of those places are long gone, and residents are currently excited about a planned Hard Rock Casino and hotel project scheduled to break ground in June and create hundreds of jobs.

The former site of Root Glass on the corner of U.S. 41 and Voorhees Street—where the Coca-Cola bottle was designed and was selected by the soft drink giant in a competition in Atlanta in 1915, is now where a Thorntons gas station and convenience store is located.

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Like most mid-sized U.S. cities throughout the Midwest, Terre Haute, Ind., in Vigo County was once home to many factories and businesses that were household names and provided good-paying jobs. One of them was the Root Glass Company, which designed the contour Coca-Cola bottle in 1915.  (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Many of the county’s residents are aware of its fame in both being the birthplace of the contour Coke contour bottle and consistently voting for the candidate who wins the White House.

“Vigo County is known for that,” Steven Perry of Terre Haute told The Epoch Times of the county’s bellwether status. “Our picks are sometimes good, sometimes bad.”

He showed his true political color, which was similar to the overall mood of people who weighed in on the area’s and country’s state of affairs on the blustery days of April 18 and 19: blue.

Perry, 59, retired from the receiving department of Pfizer in 1999 after working there for 18 years. His father retired from Stran Steel after 31 years.

“My family is a strong, politically minded family,” he said. “We’re a Democratic family. Would I vote for Trump? Never. Never Trump and hopefully, Trump never again. He’s got money, he’s got power, but I don’t think he was good for the country. I think the presidency for him was just another notch on his belt.

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Steven Perry, 59, of Terre Haute, Ind., is aware that Vigo County is perhaps the most reliable bellwether county in the United States when it comes to picking the winning presidential candidate. However, Perry has voted Democratic all his life and believes that the current administration is doing a good job. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

“I voted for Joe Biden, and I voted for Hillary Clinton. I always vote Democratic. My family would roll over in their graves if I voted Republican.”

Perry said he believes that Vigo County votes largely based on how the economy is going.

“Here, we’re not happy with the price or housing,” he said. “The roads are bad, pollution is bad—there’s a smell to Terre Haute—it smells like raw fish. There’s a lot of homeless people here, I never used to see so many homeless people.

“Those people don’t care about themselves. We need to get back to creating jobs. We really don’t have any industry here.”

Perry said he believes that the Democrats are doing a “great job.” Many others disagreed.

As other residents left the Vigo County Courthouse, Walmart, the Meijer superstore, and gas station parking lots on April 18 and 19, they talked about the issues that they thought were important heading into the May 3 Primary Election: the pain of paying at the gas pump and not getting as much food at the grocery store for their money because of inflation.

Crystal, a woman who works as a cardiovascular technician with her husband at a hospital in Terre Haute, was also as unhappy as Perry. She told The Epoch Times that she didn’t want to give her last name and that she wasn’t happy with the current political party in the White House and with control of the House and Senate.

“I’m not happy with the way things are at all,” said Crystal, who grew up in Illinois. “I don’t care for the president. I think Joe Biden is incompetent and a puppet.”

She said she and her husband lean toward favoring Trump. They voted for him in 2016 and 2020.

“We vote for whoever would be best for the country,” Crystal said. “Donald Trump had a no b.s. attitude and that was helpful. I hope he runs again in 2024. It would be good for the country if he were president again. We would vote for Trump.”

On Vigo County being a pretty accurate bellwether county, she said she had recently heard something about that and said she believes it’s because of the low-income area and most people being affected by the economy.

“We don’t have a problem with basic needs, but we’re being affected by the high price of gas, electric, and groceries,” Crystal said. “We’ve had to cut back on social things. We want to keep our savings where it’s at.”

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Roger Fennell, 66, of Terre Haute, Ind., who retired from the Gartland Foundry six years ago, said he has had to cut back on some necessities, including food items, because of inflation. When it comes to elections, he said he votes for the person he believes will do the best job. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Roger Fennell of Terre Haute, who remembers when a gallon of gas cost 27 cents, fell more in line with the county’s bellwether reputation. He retired six years ago from the Gartland Foundry, where he ground castings and did other jobs for 38 years.

“I vote for the man I want in there,” Fennell, 66, told The Epoch Times. “I don’t get too deep in the election or anything, but I’ll tell you what—those people in office are going to have gas up so high, people are going to go back to bicycles.

“I’ve cut way back on buying stuff. I buy food that’s cheap and quick to fix. I believe people here vote the way they do [depending] on how the economy is doing.

“I wouldn’t say I lean one way or another politically, you just have to vote for the person you think will do the best job. You gotta give people a chance in life.”

The sentiments of Alicia Bendekovich of Terre Haute echoed Crystal’s.

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Alicia Bendekovich, 48, of Terre Haute, Ind., said on April 18, 2022, that because of inflation and the current state of affairs, she has had to cut back on everything. Although she hasn’t consistently voted in presidential elections, she said she likely would vote for Donald Trump if he runs in 2024. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

“It’s a struggle,” Bendekovich, 48, told The Epoch Times. “I’ve cut back on gas, groceries—everything. We’re having to pay more for everything—gas, groceries—air in your tire. There’s a lot of homeless here, and it never used to be that way. There’s not a lot for the kids to do here but get in trouble.”

Bendekovich, who’s employed as a housecleaner and used to work for a Walker Dairy Queen for 19 years until it closed, told The Epoch Times that she hasn’t voted in recent elections, but plans to vote for Trump in 2024 if he runs for president.

In the first presidential election she voted in, she said she voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. She also voted for George W. Bush in 2000.

“I think the Republicans are more down to earth, and they know about and pay more attention to peoples’ struggles,” Bendekovich said. “I know every vote counts, and I’ll likely vote in 2024. The world is just something right now. Everything’s a mess.”

Growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, Linda Cooper remembers when the world was a kinder and gentler place, especially in Terre Haute.

Cooper, 86, who has served as a volunteer at the Vigo County Historical Society’s museum for four years, said she never knew Vigo County was the top bellwether county until recently.

“I was surprised I never knew that,” she said. “My mother had political jobs, and I never heard her say anything about it. There used to be a saying, ‘As Maine goes, so goes the nation.'”

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Vigo County in northwestern Indiana is an eclectic mix of people in a region that holds on to its past but is moving forward with some development to sustain its future. Known as the Crossroads of America, Terre Haute is the county seat that was once the Gateway to the West.  (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

An independent, Cooper said she’ll vote in the May 3 Primary Election to support a new high school in Terre Haute.

The building where Cooper greets museum visitors was once Ehrmann Manufacturing, which made pants and coveralls boasting the slogan “Never Wear Out.”

She worked as a supervisor in the shipping department at Pillsbury for 14 years, until it closed. She moved to Indianapolis, where she worked in customer support at Universal Music from 1979 to 1993, retiring from there.

She now lives on Social Security and has come to realize that she can’t do the little extra things that she did five years ago.

“I don’t have any extra anymore,” Cooper told The Epoch Times. “I don’t do anything extra. I used to be able to go to see community theater. I used to be able to go out to eat. I’d like to go see the Terre Haute Symphony, but I can’t afford it.”

When she worked at Pillsbury, she would look out the cafeteria window at the Wabash River.

“I used to think how there wasn’t much out there,” Cooper said. “When I moved back from Indianapolis in 2016, I was kind of surprised. I discovered they were doing some things along the riverfront.

“During COVID early on, the museum closed for three months. Now, with some things added to downtown and the casino that they will break ground on in June, things are picking back up.”

Carrie Moffit, 29, who grew up in Poland, Indiana, and has lived in Terre Haute for the past 10 years, said she isn’t so sure about how things will shake out in the United States.

A dental assistant who makes $15 per hour while working 32 to 36 hours per week, Moffit isn’t happy with the current president and believes there needs to be a more affordable health care system in place and that Americans need to be better taken care of as opposed to sending money overseas.

Moffit, who drives a Hyundai Sonata with more than 230,000 miles on it, said Bernie Sanders was her first choice as president because he supported affordable health care and college loan forgiveness.

“I am doing my best to get by,” she told The Epoch Times. “I’ve been careful on my spending. I can’t afford a car payment or for car repairs. I have chronic health issues, but I seldom go to the doctor.

“I know we have to take COVID and the situation overseas with Ukraine into account, but this country needs to take care of its own people so we don’t have to fight to make ends meet.”

Janice Capps, who’s a retired supervisor from the Westridge Health Care Center nursing home in Terre Haute, said she and her husband weren’t happy with the state of affairs throughout the world or in the United States.

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Janice Capps of Terre Haute, Ind., is staying true to Vigo County’s reputation of being the top bellwether county in the United States. The retired nursing home supervisor said she has voted Democrat and Republican. She and her husband both voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections and said they would vote for him if he runs in 2024. (Michael Sakal/The Epoch Times)

Capps said she and her husband, who are on a fixed income, are tired of seeing the two main political parties failing to work together in the best interest of the country and tearing each other apart.

Inflation has caused the couple to cut back on everything, including food—especially meat.

“Whenever I go to the store, I have to ‘bill budget,'” she said. “We’re not getting as much for our money as we used to.”

Capps and her husband voted for Donald Trump in the past two presidential elections. She said she likely would vote for him again, but she wants to see what each candidate is saying.

Being true to Vigo County’s bellwether reputation, she told The Epoch Times that she has been both a Democrat and a Republican and that she has voted for a presidential candidate in each party.

“I’m about ready to become an independent,” Capps said. “The Democrats and Republicans need to lay things aside and work the issues out.

“The voting process needs to be improved. There needs to be more of a paper trail when it comes to the ballots.”

Like many people throughout the United States, she said she’s concerned about the cognitive ability of Biden. The concern has been increasing among Americans, especially in recent months.

“The things I’ve seen on Biden, I feel as though his family should not have let him run for office because of his shaky mental stability,” Capps said.

“We’re supposed to be the strongest country in the world, and it doesn’t look like it right now. Something needs to be done. We need to change.”