Dave Carpenter has cut hair for approximately 49 years between the city of Mason and Delhi Township. He runs the small Rams Barber Shop now, located on the front lawn of 1940 Aurelius Road. It’s brown and trimmed in yellow, the colors of the local Holt High School.
There’s a singular chair for patrons and a singular mirror. He reclines in it watching the news, fitting the stereotype of what old men do in their free time. In last year’s presidential election he voted for Donald Trump, like the roughly 80 percent of his customers, he said.
“It was pretty well recepted as far as customers that come in here, that he won,” Carpenter said. “They had very little faith, if any, whatsoever in (President Barack) Obama and I think that carried over into (presidential runner-up Hillary) Clinton.”
But it was deeper than that and again Holt residents fit the narrative. Carpenter said most of his customers too were upset at the choices handed down by the Democratic and Republican parties.
“They just felt neither one of them was qualified,” Carpenter said of his customers. “It was just a matter of who you didn’t want in there. Compared with some of the other elections they were satisfied with candidates but not this time. Out of the 350 million people in the United States, these are the two we have to choose from?”
Much has already been made of the 2016 presidential election; how an outsider with a flair for the provocative pulled an unprecedented upset over the establishment’s well groomed and immersed politician.
The race was never going to be easy, never the landslide the pundits believed it would be. Per usual, the answers were found in the details of the larger photo; in the nondescript towns which litter the map between major cities.
It was places like Holt/Delhi Township which became a microcosm of the whole. A seemingly “small-town America” feel teeming on the brink of urban modernity with pockets of the population struggling to find the balance.
On Nov. 8, 2016, 7,344 Delhi Township residents voted for Clinton and Tim Kaine. 5,794 voted for Trump and Mike Pence.
Of the nine precincts in Delhi Township, Clinton won eight. Trump took one, by only a slim number of votes.
Though Clinton captured the town, she hadn’t done so uncontested. It was the 5,794 Trump voters in the area which ultimately helped paint the state of Michigan red for the first time since 1988 — swiftly delivering a shake up Washington had not yet faced.
And even in a progressive town, in a progressive county, the shockwave of Trump’s election is still felt.
Under the hood
One resident, an elderly man named Bob Walker, recalled the tension in the town saying it was definitely contentious between Clinton and Trump supporters. He supported Trump, he said.
“We needed a change, we needed a businessman,” Walker said. “We’ve had enough of the career politicians.”
With a starkly divided vote expected to bring out a record turnout, voter turnout remained largely the same in Delhi Township, Township Clerk Evan Hope said. Absentee ballots, however, were a record number, Hope said.
“We were prepared for record turnout cause that was the way it was looking especially with the amount of absentee ballots we were processing,” Hope said. “We had 4,730 absentee ballots, that was a record for us. That was 24 percent of our voters who voted absentee.”
Delhi Township residents followed much of the national sentiment — stark displeasure between the two candidates. Ingham County, which houses Delhi Township, has given the Democratic candidate for president at least 57 percent of the vote in each presidential election since 2004 according to the results posted on the Ingham County website.
It’s a progressive area, near a large liberal arts university and would be a safe bed for Democratic votes. It went blue again in 2016 but upon talking to voters and sifting through the data given by the Democratic party, Democratic officials in the area began to see cracks.
“There were times where the people on the list, according to the data the party had should have been more a little more democratic leaning and they were Trump supporters,” Hope said. “That’s when we started seeing signs like, ‘hey something is not fitting here.’ First, we thought our data wasn’t right and then we thought maybe this election isn’t going to be what we thought.”
Not what they thought
Clinton took the township with 52 percent of the vote, a closer victory than would be expected for a progressive area.
The election, however, drew strict partisan lines that kept party members and voters towing the line in a harsher fashion. In fact so harsh, it affected the local elections.
“At the local level, they’re much more willing to talk to us,” Hope said of the township residents. “Oh this isn’t as political not as partisan but people are starting to get really tired of it all, pretty worn down. People are just digging into their own positions, their own sides.”
Hope saw it going door to door campaigning for himself and other democrats. So did other Delhi Township Board of Trustees members. Township Supervisor and Republican John Hayhoe recognized it early and tried as best he could to sidestep the partisan rifts.
“As a local politician I have my area and I’m trying to work a consensus with everybody,” Hayhoe said. “I don’t know who was for Trump or who was against him and if I came out saying I was for Trump then all people who were against him would be against me. And if I say I’m against Trump then all the people for him would be against me.”
Hayhoe was adamant about staying neutral between the two, focusing on the local issues instead of national.
“I try to be a consensus builder,” Hayhoe said. “I’m more concerned with the streets and the sidewalks which aren’t federal issues. Federal issues are the wars and abortions and the general economy. My issues are sidewalks and streets and getting the kids to school safely. So neither one meshes.”
Why Trump captured Michigan on a local level
New Delhi Township Board of Trustees member Tom Lenard, like Trump, had never run for office before, something he said resonated with people. He is a Democrat who captured a seat on the board this fall.
The newness he said helped as people who were drifting away from “establishment” politics looked for someone fresh. This he said, helped guide Trump into office.
“Automatically there were some people, because of that status quo, establishment versus, that at least opened the door and was asimilar even though we are completely polar opposites policy-wise, for somebody like Trump,” Lenard said.
Lenard, who is a Democrat, did the usual get-out-the-vote tactic, campaigning until the last weekend. His experiences at the door led him to believe Trump had a chance.
“It was definitely something you could see resonated with people,” Lenard said of Trump as an agent for change. “They were looking for something that was a little bit different and they definitely got it, at least the ones who voted for him.”
Other cracks, Hope and Lenard pointed out came from the usual Democrat voting blocs such as the unions, particularly the local UAW. Hope said UAW leaders sensed a shift among their ranks even as union members said they would vote Democrat.
One of those UAW members, William Norton, became a Trump supporter.
“I had a lot of haters but that’s the way it goes,” Norton said.
Norton said a lot of the fellow UAW members “switched teams” when it came time to vote saying they were “sick of all the lies.”
Norton said he was behind Trump because Obamacare had sucked a lot of money out of his friends and was concerned with growing numbers of welfare recipients. He is hesitant still of Trump but like many of his supporters, he wants to see where it leads.
A vote for Trump was a vote for change and for the supporters it can be a quandary.
“So far we’re just going to go with the flow,” Norton said. “I like change but then again, I don’t like change.”