The odometer on my little blue car has been spinning like a slot machine in the last couple of months as I've rolled through Pennsylvania farmlands and up mountain roads, reporting in more rural parts of the state.
One of the things I've noticed, along with oceans of corn and the man eating a cheeseburger at a turnpike urinal (I've tried to forget), are all the signs for President Trump still spiked into the grass outside farmhouses and along the highways. Most are the traditional navy "Trump-Pence" signs, but others are larger and even homemade. One was merely a piece of plywood spiked to a tree above the turnpike with Trump's name in black spray paint.
It's all anecdotal of course, but the signs were up in Somerset County in July while I was reporting on the anniversary of a near-fatal mine disaster, and in August in Bradford and Sullivan Counties where I reported on troubles with rural internet coverage. I saw them Sunday across from an antique barn in Schuylkill County while logging miles from one interview to another.
But based on a recent Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, maybe those people just haven't gotten around to taking down their Trump signs yet. The pollsters, who spoke to 15,000 adults in "non-metro"areas, found that support for Trump was "eroding in small towns and rural communities."
Trump still got high marks for his handling of the economy and national security, but the rural Americans Reuters spoke to were "increasingly unhappy with Trump's record on immigration, a central part of his presidential campaign."
In April, Inquirer and Daily News reporter William Bender went out to Potter County, a.k.a. God's County, to see whether the "the Trump thrill was gone." Trump took 80 percent of the county and Bender found few voters there had "buyer's remorse" even while his ratings purportedly slipped.
As Trump prepared to go to Harrisburg Wednesday evening for a rally over his tax-reform plan, one local pollster says there may have been some "slippage" among his base but believes the core has dug in deep.
"I'm not convinced there's a steep erosion of support here," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll. "Some of those voters may have gone from strongly to somewhat in terms of support. But I think he's held on to much of his base, and we know who they are. They're white. They're generally described as working class with a high school education or less and with a family income of $50,000 to $60,000."
In September, Madonna told Inquirer and Daily News political writer Chris Brennan that his own poll found support for the president dropping among Pennsylvania's GOP: 53 percent of the party's voters rated his job performance positively, but that was down from 67 percent in May.
The state's GOP didn't immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday, but Joe Gale, a Republican commissioner in Montgomery County, balked at the report and said Trump was a lock for 2020.
"That is fake news supported by bad polling," Gale wrote in an email. "These are the same pollsters who said Trump would lose in 2016 and said I would lose my primary and general elections in 2015. They, just like the political swamp in Washington, are clueless about what really matters to everyday Americans."
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said the Reuters poll sounded all too real to him.
"From pushing a health care scheme that would close rural hospitals, to pursuing a tax cut plan for the super-rich and trying to defund rural economic development programs, this administration's policies are an economic gut punch to rural Americans," Casey said in a statement Wednesday. "Rural Pennsylvanians, many of whom are making middle class incomes, want policies that grow wages and create jobs, but the administration is doing the opposite."
Reuters spoke to John Wilson, a retired banker taking tickets outside a fair in rural Ohio, who listed a slew of reasons why he was unhappy with Trump, including immigration and all the infighting in his administration.
Locally, Anthony Kuklinski, the chief of police in Spring City, Chester County, and a supervisor in Douglass Township, Montgomery County, said he hasn't seen support for Trump wane. Banners and signs are everywhere on his commute, Kuklinski said.
"What he does doesn't affect me," Kuklinski, a Republican, said. "I pay the taxes. I cut my grass."
Trump took 62 percent of the vote in Douglass Township.
I reached out to the "Forest County Pa Democrats" on Facebook, to see what the vibe was there. Forest, with a population of 7,410, is one of the most rural parts of the state, with huge swaths of forest covering its land. Trump took 70 percent of the vote there.
Here's the response I got:
"As a citizen I have not noted a shift in Trump support. The handmade signs — bordering on shrines — are still in place and people still scoff at Democrats and Democratic platform ideals."
The man who responded didn't want to give his name because he owned a small business. He did send a picture he took Wednesday around 2 p.m. there.
"Most democrats in the area lay pretty low," he wrote.