In The U.S. And U.K., Anti-Establishment Voters Sound Similar Themes

Nov 2, 2016
Originally published on November 2, 2016 10:31 am

This year's presidential campaign seems to be one of a kind, but it is really part of a bigger picture that stretches beyond the U.S.

Donald Trump's message to anyone who doubts he can win: Look at what happened in the United Kingdom last summer. The vote to leave the EU in June was fueled by some of the same issues that Trump is tapping.

"Believe me. This is Brexit times five. You watch what's going to happen," he said last month.

Indeed, in both the U.S. and the U.K., NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea and London correspondent Frank Langfitt recently talked to people whose fears and frustrations echoed one another.

Residents of Monessen, Pa., and Washington, Pa., — areas considered strong Trump supporters this year — as well as those in the English seaside resort of Margate, which voted strongly for Brexit, were concerned about immigration, the economy and a distrust of those they consider political elites.

Click on the audio above to hear the full conversation.

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You know, in so many ways this year's presidential campaign seems to be one of a kind. But it is really part of a bigger picture that stretches beyond the United States. In fact, Donald Trump's message to anyone who doubts he can win - look at what happened in the United Kingdom last summer.


DONALD TRUMP: Believe me, this is Brexit times five. You watch what's going to happen.

GREENE: Brexit, that was the vote to leave the EU in June. It was fueled by some of the same issues that Donald Trump is tapping into in his campaign. And to look more closely at the similarities and perhaps differences, we turn to NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea and NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Guys, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Dave.

GREENE: Now I know you both are back from reporting trips. You, Don, in the United States and you, Frank, in the U.K. and you're going to compare notes. Don, let me just start with you. Where'd you go?

GONYEA: So I went to two towns, both in far Southwestern Pennsylvania.

GREENE: My old neck of the woods, near Pittsburgh, right?

GONYEA: Monessen and Washington, Pa.

GREENE: Which is more Pittsburgh than Pittsburgh. This is, like, coal mining steel country.

GONYEA: And nothing like Washington, D.C., we should add.

GREENE: Very true.

GONYEA: So this remains coal country. It used to also be steel country. But tens of thousands - literally - of steel jobs have been lost over the past few decades. Fair to call it Trump country this election.

GREENE: OK. Frank, you?

LANGFITT: I was in Southeastern England along the coast in a place called Margate, an old seaside resort. And like Don's areas, it suffered from globalization and technology, specifically jet travel and sort of discount packages to places like Spain decimated the tourism business there. And this place voted very strongly for Brexit.

GREENE: OK. So it sounds like these are similar kinds of places. But I want to hear more. I mean, what did you guys find in common?

LANGFITT: Well, I did talk to Don. And I think one thing we found is some similar themes. Certainly where I was, a lot of frustration with immigration. Margate's close to the English Channel. A lot of EU migrants pouring into the schools there, making it hard, frankly, for teachers to teach. I was talking to a pub owner. Her name's Ali Burke, she runs the Bulls Head. And her daughter actually had to translate for other students in school and was falling behind academically. And Ali said all this was kind of just overwhelming.

ALI BURKE: I don't think anyone in this country has a problem with a certain amount of migration. It's just - there's too many. You know, we've got to draw the line somewhere. And we have got to start putting our own country first. I do believe that.

GONYEA: And, David, in the town of Monessen, I talked to the mayor. He's 79-year-old retired steel worker Lou Mavrakis. First - and this is his important thing - he says communities like his have been ignored. He says billions have been spent on unnecessary wars. And that's cash that could have been used to revive a town like his. On immigration, the mayor says it's not a huge worry to him. But he does use really strong language to say they need to do it legally the way his Greek immigrant father did.

LOU MAVRAKIS: Today what you have here, you pick up that phone and you try to call and say - press one for English, press two for se habla espanol. I mean, come on, you know. Now we have people that are coming across the border and they expect us to speak their language to accommodate them. I mean, that's [expletive]. You, know if you want to come to this country, learn the language.

GREENE: OK, some strong views there. Let me ask you guys both this question. I mean, both of these movements driven - it sounds like, in large part - by economic frustration. Fair to say?

GONYEA: Oh, yeah. And that's the main thing you hear over and over, even from people who have jobs. I spoke with Christina and Frank Zacconne over their kitchen table in Washington, Pa. He's a coal miner. She's a stay-at-home mom. Here's her take on the economy.

CHRISTINA ZACCONNE: Statistically they say things are better, but you don't notice it here where we are. With the downturn in coal, with manufacturing leaving, with all that stuff happening, I mean, it's just in shambles.

GONYEA: So her husband, Frank, is working as a miner. It's actually been a decent year for him. He's getting some overtime, but there are no guarantees. And they think Hillary Clinton would kill the coal industry, though Clinton says she wants to invest in new jobs in places like this.

GREENE: Frank?

LANGFITT: Yeah. So when I was in Margate, I talked to Rachel Parker (ph). She's 20 years old. She works at Bargain Busters, it's a discount store in the area. And she, you know, said after the decline of tourism, no new industry has emerged there. Rachel also told me this, I mean, it really made me so sad. She said only 20 percent of her high school class has a job. And I was talking to her dad, Chris (ph), who owns the store. And he says there's just no opportunity for young people.

CHRIS PARKER: Possibly about the last 10 years, slowly got worse and worse and worse. It's like this seems to be forgotten. It's like a dumping ground.

GREENE: God, the feeling of forgotten, it sounds like you're hearing that on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I wonder who people are blaming in these communities. Frank, let me start with you.

LANGFITT: Yeah, sure. I mean, in Margate you just hear talk about the political elites, certainly in London but also Brussels. That's home, of course, of the European Union and where a lot of these migrants are coming from.

GONYEA: And I heard the exact same thing in Pennsylvania, but with public enemy number one being Washington. David, listen to these two voices. We're going to play them back to back, one in Margate, the other in U.S. coal country.

BURKE: So I think they're out of touch. I mean, they live in their bubble. They live in - obviously a land where there's plenty of money and plenty of work. And I don't know whether they actually know what's going on in places like Margate. I think that they need to come and visit and see for themselves.

FRANK ZACCONE: Every one of them in Washington, who are in Washington, are the elites.

GONYEA: Do they understand you?

F. ZACCONE: No. They have no clue. They have never walked a day in my shoes.


F. ZACCONE: They may come on a tour underground, see, you know, oh, look, they're mining coal. They do - they have - they put the hard hat on, the belt. They don't get a speck of dirt on them. They got their coveralls on. It may - I come out every day as black as that microphone that you have in your hand.

GONYEA: That second voice there is Frank Zaccone. He's the 30-year-old coal miner.

LANGFITT: And before that, that was, of course, Ali Burke. She's the owner of the Bulls Head.

GREENE: God, that's amazing. The different accents, but, I mean, the message and the feeling really very much the same. Did you guys find, I mean, were all the people you guys were talking to supporters of Donald Trump, supporters of Brexit or was it a mix?

GONYEA: Mostly you drive around in this part of the state and Trump signs are everywhere. The Zaccones are strong Trump supporters. They say finally they have somebody on their side. Mayor Mavrakis says he's not for Trump or Hillary. He's a Democrat, but he says Trump says the same kinds of things he's been saying for years.

GREENE: Frank?

LANGFITT: You know, the answer to your question is yes and no. And this is the most fascinating part of the reporting. Almost everybody I talked to voted for Brexit. Not one person could stand Donald Trump.


LANGFITT: Even if they shared some of his fears on immigration, they found his political rhetoric just too extreme. Ali, the bar owner, she actually said she wished Michelle Obama was running.

GREENE: Interesting. And briefly, guys, just takeaways from this reporting you've done? Frank?

LANGFITT: You know, just how widespread this is. Not just in the U.K., but we've also been seeing this in other parts of Western Europe, in France and in Hungary. You have the president there fighting to keep Muslim refugees out, saying they threaten the country's Christian identity.


GONYEA: And if they're not really watching Brexit and what's happening in Europe all that closely, one guy told me he says it feels like the whole world is out of balance. You're seeing it in the U.S. You're seeing it elsewhere. And they just feel that the little guy is getting pushed down.

GREENE: OK. Well, we're looking at that political trend on two continent with NPR's Don Gonyea and NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks, guys.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it.

GREENE: All right. Election night is coming in this country and we want to hang out with you. All of us here and reporters from stations across the country will be live that night and also the day after, going over results. Listen live and follow the races important to you at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.