You already know what the candidates are saying. They’re everywhere – at the debates, on cable TV news, in ads. But what are real people saying? What issues are they focusing on in 2016? To find out, DecodeDC’s Miranda Green is sitting down with people in the heart of key states to simply listen – listen to people talk about what’s important to them.
EASTOVER, S.C. – South Carolina is saturated with presidential candidates right now. The Republican and Democratic primaries are only weeks away, and big-name politicians are holding rallies and meet-and-greets almost daily. You can get your politics from the right – or from the left. We headed to the center, to Eastover, a town of 800 smack in the middle of the state, and spent an afternoon talking to people at the library.
Eastover has deep roots in the Antebellum South. Many residents are descendants of slaves, they share the same last name and a lot of them run soybean, vegetable and timber farms that have been in their families since the end of the Civil War.
The history of the area also explains its demographics - 94 percent black with average household incomes of around $28,000.
Pearl Robinson, 75, a part-time librarian at the local library puts jobs high on the list of Eastover issues. She said too many people have to drive to other towns to find work.
“We have International Paper here, but everybody can’t work there, and they don’t hire everybody from here. They often times bring other people in from other states to work,” Robinson said. “[Locals] are often told that for the jobs they do have open, people aren’t qualified for because they needed more training.”
Robinson, who was a high school teacher for 30 years, added, “We need more resources, we need more things to help the people.”
Finding one of those jobs is the biggest issue for Samuel Williams, 29. He was sitting in the library clipping out help-wanted ads from one of the local papers. Williams said he wasn’t convinced he was going to vote, but he did have one plea for the next president of the United States.
“People can’t get jobs. One time I was in trouble with the law—for drugs — and that caused me to not get a job. No one wants to hire you when you get out,” he said. “They need to come up with a program to help the ones trying to go to work and do something with their lives — to help them. There are no programs like that.”
Joseph Lucky, 33, a library regular, told us he has little faith that the government can fix any of the town’s problems, let alone the country’s. And he says many of the people in the area are just as skeptical and disengaged.
“Politics in general is very corrupt. I know many individuals here and they don’t care about this stuff,” he said. “The last time I checked you have to have $1 million in the hole to run for president. So it’s a rich man’s game.”
Lucky, who uses a wheelchair, grew up as an Air Force “brat,” spending most of his time in California and North Dakota before settling in Eastover three years ago. He says none of the politicians running have the qualities he admires.
“Your best candidate is someone who doesn’t have anything, has never seen politics, who had a correct upbringing and won’t stand for certain things,” he said.
Nineteen-year-old Delante Williams graduated from the local area high school not too long ago and is just old enough to vote in the upcoming election, but, like Lucky, he says he has little motivation to show up at the ballot box.
“I’m not really interested in the election, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to have the same outcome,” he said while sitting at a computer in the library. “I don’t really think they have the power to change anything.”
“I don’t think people my age care about that,” he added. “We don’t talk about it.”
Daryl Booth is from another generation and focused on different issues. He’s 69 and a retiree who moved to Eastover from Atlanta in 2007.
“I’m a registered Republican and right now I have a lot of choices,” Booth said. “I’m deciding between two. It’s about the direction the country is going in that is really a concern. I’m a Baptist and a Christian. I’m not sure everything has to be politically correct. We need somebody who is not so politically correct.”
Booth, who lost his wife this past summer to brain cancer and lost his mother this past fall, said the driving force behind his vote was monetary fear.
“I’m retired. The economy is very important. I’m living off investments and what’s been happening with the stock market at the beginning of the year has been scary,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “I’m not a big regulations person. We’re in a worldwide economy now and everything has an impact. It’s a scary time to me as you get older and you only have what you have to live on.”
Most of the people in Richland County, where Eastover is located, tend to lean the other way on the political spectrum. In 2012, 64 percent of county residents voted for Barack Obama, while the state of South Carolina went for Mitt Romney.
Anthony Williams, 52, said he’s putting his hopes in Hillary Clinton.
“You can make fun of me but I think that a woman might just bring this country back. I think [Clinton’s] learning a lot from [Obama]” said Williams.
Williams also knew what candidate he definitely is not voting for, Donald Trump. “He’s a menace to society. How did he get into politics? He’s a casino owner?” he said. “I guess money talks.”
In addition to jobs and the economy, Robinson said she also is worried about gun violence. It’s an issue that hits close to home. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with killing nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was from Eastover, and Robinson says the Charleston church is a sister church to the one she regularly attends.
The attack shocked her so much she said she wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to consider curbing bullet sales, conceding that a ban on guns was all but impossible.
“You don’t know where people will strike next, just like in Charleston and what happened there—I’m not just concerned about myself but other people as well,” she said.
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