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David Giffels went on a journey to understand America, and for the Akron-based writer, that started in Ohio. Giffels, the author of Furnishing Eternity, The Hard Way on Purpose, and All The Way Home, travelled around the state, working on his new book, in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. Every month, WKSU's Andrew Meyer checked in regularly with Giffels to talk to him about what he's learned along the way.

To Understand Ohio: How to Understand America

The cover of David Giffels' new book: Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America
The cover of David Giffels' new book: Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America

Author David Giffels spent a year traveling around Ohio with the idea that by getting a better understanding of Ohio, he might get a better understanding of the nation as a whole this election year. The people he encountered in his journeys and what he learned from them are in his new book, "Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America." Giffels said he wrapped up his research just as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the state and the country. 

A photo of David Giffels.
David Giffels' new book, Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America, comes out this week.

An electric year 

The book spans one year, from March 2019 to March 2020. It ends with the beginning of the pandemic. The last place Giffels went was Hinckley, Ohio, where the buzzards return every year on March 15. 

"March 15 is sort of the day the world changed," Giffels said. 

Everything began to shut down, and two days later the Ohio primary was canceled. 

"It was a very electric, and a very illuminating year," he said.

Understanding America

Giffels found that much of what he wrote in his book still resonates now. For example, he spent a lot of time with workers in Lordstown who lost their jobs, gaining a new perspective on unemployment. Now, Ohioans are facing high unemployment rates due to the pandemic. 

The new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement is reflected in the book as well. Giffels said he sees direct relevance between the chapter about race in Cincinnati and the current movement. 

"So, if I set out with the audacious goal to understand America, which is the subtitle of the book, I have felt as America's narrative has continued to unfold that I do understand it a little bit better," he said.

The five Ohios

Ohio is known to be a reliable and relevent reflection of the nation. Giffels' original idea for the book was to take the pulse of the five Ohios. The five Ohios are five distinct regions that are socially, culturally and politically unique from one another. Giffels said each region represents a "national slice of the politcal pie."

The five regions include the northeast, a post-industrial region that feels like the northeast of America, the southwest, a conservative and more southern feeling region, the northwest, which is rural and the beginning of the true American midwest, the southeast, which is Appalachia and Central Ohio, a growing white collar, suburban area. 

Each region has its own voting patterns and when taken as a whole, reflect a national story. 

Trending Democrat 

Recent polls show Joe Biden has a slight advantage over President Donald Trump. Although these polls are just a snapshot in time, they indicate something interesting about Ohio. There is wide support in Northeast and Central Ohio, which is mostly expected. However, Southwest Ohio, an area that is usually more conservative, is even trending Democrat. 

Giffels said this is something he noticed while writing the book. He said there's a diagnal swipe of support for Biden through Ohio's main cities, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. 

Giffels also talked to a lot of people who supported Trump in 2016 who either no longer support him or are less enthusiastic in their support than they were four years ago. He noticed this particularly in Lordstown, where a lot of Democratic union workers who voted for Barack Obama twice then Trump said they are not planning on voting for Trump again. 

Ohio is still in play

Ohio has long been considered a swing state, but Trump winning Ohio handily in the 2016 election has caused some to rethink this. 

"Part of what makes Ohio so interesting is the fact that we have selected the winner of the presidential race accurately in 29 of the past 31 elections," Giffels said. "No other state has a track record like that. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio. This could be the year that trend changes."

However, Giffels said it feels like Ohio is much more in play than people thought it would be. He thinks Ohio is once again accurately reflecting the national trend. 

Change in the air  

Four years ago both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time in Ohio. Giffels thinks this will happen again in the last few months leading up to the election. He thinks Ohio is seen as the least likely for a Democrat to win. 

"If he [Biden] wins Ohio, that's sort of a canary in the coal mine story. That really proves there's a change in the air."

Andrew Meyer will be interviewing Giffels live on stage Wednesday at the Akron Summit County Public Library. You can attend the conversation virtually on our Facebook page. You can also listen back on our conversations with Giffels from the past year at wksu.org. 

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.