On Nov. 8, while millions of Americans traveled to the polls to cast their vote, for arguably two of the most controversial presidential candidates in U.S. history, some chose to remain on the sidelines and sit this one out.
As students ventured across Western Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, speaking to local voters on why their counties flipped from blue to red by the largest margins in the country, a common theme began to emerge – the non-voters.
According to projections from the United States Elections Project, 231,556,622 Americans were eligible to vote in the 2016 election, but only 135,657,507 did. With 41.6 percent of people not voting, America has witnessed the lowest voter turnout in nearly 20 years.
In the Red Apple Cafe, a small diner located in the quiet village of Gays Mills, Wisconsin, a mother and daughter disclosed their reasons for not voting in this past election.
Carolyn, a 50-year-old waitress at the diner, accompanied by her mother – and loyal customer – Elinor, 73, explained that she wasn’t excited by either candidate and admits that she has never voted a day in her life. (They refused to give their last names).
For Carolyn, her non-voting habits can be credited to both a busy schedule, and a distrust in federal government.
“Every time you try to better yourself, the government takes it away,” said Carolyn. “Why even bother.”
Despite making $9 an hour – only a $2 increase in the past 30 years, Carolyn admits that raising the minimum wage would help, but doesn’t believe that either candidate would have made it happen.
“I feel like they all lie anyway,” said Carolyn. “If all the presidents did what they said they would do, we wouldn’t be billions of dollars in debt.”
While Carolyn’s mother, Elinor, didn’t make it to the polls either, she had a slightly different afterthought. Although remaining both quiet and hesitant throughout the interview, Elinor admits that she regrets not voting.
Elinor said that if she had voted, she would have went with Hillary Clinton and that she never expected a Trump victory. Elinor also conceded to prior support for President Obama because he was family oriented, but says that she didn’t vote in the 2012 election either.
As students traveled state-to-state, the theme of non-voters continued. In Harmony, Minnesota a local store owner, Peggy, 62, shared that she didn’t vote in this past election and admits that she hasn’t voted in any election since she was 18-years-old.
Peggy credits her non-voting habits to a lack of political insight.
“I can’t say that I wanted Trump,” said Peggy. “I just don’t know that much about politics.”
Even though she didn’t vote, Peggy alludes to Democratic tendencies.
“When this all started out, I thought Bernie was the best,” said Peggy. “As much as I would’ve liked to see a woman president, I was disappointed in my choice.”
While many claimed Trump’s rhetoric and Clinton’s email scandal as reasons for not voting, Peggy admits that she was never bothered by the President-Elect’s comments.
“It didn’t make one bit of difference to me,” said Peggy. “What I want to know is why it all came out a week before Election Day.”
Peggy believes that media played the biggest role in Trump’s victory.
“There is no question that the media is one-sided,” said Peggy. “And it worked for Donald Trump.”
Making their way through the last state and county of the Mississippi River Valley road trip, students made a final stop in Lime Spring, Iowa.
Here they spoke with former dairy farmer and current shop owner, Curtis Tienter, 66. Tienter classifies himself as an independent voter and says that he voted for Obama in the last election, but this time around, he couldn’t tolerate either candidate.
“I just couldn’t stand either them,” said Tienter. “So I guess I won’t be able complain for the next four years.”
Pointing to a photo located on a cluttered bulletin board near the register of his shop, Tienter offered some insight on his opinion of Donald Trump. The photo is of a worn-down outhouse on top of the hill; it’s labeled Trump Tower. Tienter says that the photo was taken only 20 miles south from Lime Springs.
Tienter believes that reasoning behind the county’s flip can be credited to Trump’s promise of change.
“People around here – they just didn’t trust Hillary and Trump wanted change – that’s it.” said Tienter. “Most people couldn’t trust her because of her emails and they were sick of everything staying the same.”
Tienter says that he was never fully on board with other presidential candidates either.
“Bernie was interesting,” said Tienter. “He looked like a better candidate as the election went along, but I never really knew where he stood on a lot of things.”
Tienter says that he never attended political rallies that were in the area.
“I’m here seven days a week, said Tienter. “I’m on a set income so the longer my door are open the better off I am.”
With his lack of interest in both candidates, Tienter admits that he quickly grew irritable when it came to political talk.
“I got so sick of people talking politics,” said Tienter. “You come in my store, you don’t talk politics and that’s that.”