Many Washington elites, including Republicans, do not know a single person who supports Donald Trump.
In the depressed industrial town of Middletown in southwestern Ohio, it is hard to find anyone who says they are for Hillary Clinton.
"I cannot tell you one person I know of who has said to me that they support Hillary. Not one," said Chris Polleys, who cleans benzene pots at the AK Steel plant here.
"I don't understand how she's doing anything in the polls. I see Hillary for prison, but there's no Hillary for president signs anywhere. It's just impossible for me to believe that they're neck and neck."
A poll published yesterday by Quinnipiac University shows that Trump is ahead of Clinton in Ohio by 5 points (47 per cent to 42 per cent) and that this is the only battleground state where his lead expanded in the wake of the first debate.
The GOP nominee's strength can be explained, in part, by his extraordinary popularity with white men who did not go to college in places like this, where Democrats were once strong but who have moved sharply towards Republicans during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Polleys, 40, was smoking Marlboros and drinking US$1 Bud Lights with his brother, Dale Baxter, at a bar along the railroad tracks on the edge of town. Baxter, a machinist, said he met a handful of people in Dayton who support Clinton. But he agrees: Trump will win the election in a landslide. They do not foresee any other outcome.
As a train rumbled by, drowning him out and shaking his beer, Baxter paused. After it passed, he explained how Middletown was an All-American City when they were growing up. But the economy declined. Jobs moved overseas. The mall is about dead now.
The once grand home that belonged to the owner of a defunct paper mill has become low-income housing. Almost all the storefronts downtown are boarded up, including the cinema. The pawn shops are the only thriving businesses.
Baxter, 50, joined the Army after high school. After 20 years, he came back a decade ago. "Everything went in reverse. Something is keeping us locked in a time warp here."
The backdrop of our conversation at the trackside bar is described by JD Vance in Hillbilly Elegy. Vance grew up here as the son of an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother and an absent father. The 31-year-old was mostly raised by his grandparents. He joined the Marines after high school and wound up matriculating at Yale Law School. Now he lives in San Francisco and works at an investment fund controlled by Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal founder.
Vance writes poignantly and personally about the many problems afflicting the white working class, including the decaying social structure: divorce, domestic violence, declining church attendance and so on. He writes in one passage about mothers - including his own - putting Mountain Dew in their infants' bottles because they don't know any better, which leads to decaying teeth. In another, his mum makes him give her a urine sample so she can pass it off as her own. He's certainly not alone: more people died in this county of drug overdoses last year than natural causes.
THE SWING STATES
RealClearPolitics.com poll average leads
New Hampshire +6
North Carolina +1.2
This book has been at or near the top of the bestseller lists for two months now. Though The Donald is never mentioned, elites in both parties are studying Hillbilly Elegy as a sort of Rosetta Stone to understand the conditions that allowed for the rise of Trumpism.
As he's promoted it, Vance often draws parallels between Trump's appeal and the drug epidemic pummelling Middletown. Calling the GOP nominee an "opioid for the masses," he explains: "What Trump offers is an easy escape from the pain. . . . (His) promises are the needle in America's collective vein. . . . Trump is cultural heroin. He makes some feel better for a bit. But he cannot fix what ails them, and one day they'll realise it."
Though Ohio was in the union during the civil war, this region is culturally Southern. Most here migrated from Kentucky or Tennessee in search of good-paying factory jobs-or their parents did. Driving around town, I spotted a Confederate flag with a middle finger superimposed in the middle. Both of that man's neighbours had Trump signs in their yards.
The most provocative argument in the book is that working-class whites do not take enough personal responsibility for the horrible situations they find themselves in. Vance, who has been a regular contributor to National Review, warns that the culture now "breeds a sense of learned helplessness". He relays vignette after vignette about lazy Middletownians abusing the social safety net and taking advantage of a system that's designed to give them a hand up. One character in the book quits his job because he hates waking up early but then takes to Facebook to blame "the Obama economy".
While folks who live on the East Coast hear a lot about how much people loathe Trump, it would be challenging to overstate the level of antipathy for Clinton here. "Everybody is worried about what their future is going to hold. I have no idea, but I do know Obama's made it worse. And Hillary will make it worser," said Cecil Graham, 50, a machine operator at a box factory. "I really don't get how it's as close as it is."
As the self-described independent talked about how he never liked George W. Bush either, a Clinton commercial appeared on the television he was staring at. It showed young women looking at themselves in the mirror as Trump uttered nasty comments about females. Graham pointed it out. "The little stupid sh*t that they're running ads on, no one cares about it," he said. "Nobody's perfect."
These are some of the people Hillary was apparently speaking of when she said that half of Trump's supporters are irredeemable and in a "basket of deplorables". (She has since expressed regret for the gaffe.)
The most recent Washington Post/ABC News national poll found that white men without a degree prefer Trump over Clinton by about 60 points nationally. This constituency has moved in Trump's direction far more than any other demographic compared to 2012.
"Ohio's electorate is going to be somewhere around 80 per cent white in 2016. That's significantly higher than the national average, which will be somewhere around 70 per cent," writes Kyle Kondik, the author of a new book called The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President. "Nationally, about 29 per cent of Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree, while just about 26 per cent of Ohioans do. . . . The Ohio electorate should be about half non-college white in 2016 (again, larger than the national average). So a growing educational difference in white voter preference . . . works more to Trump's advantage in Ohio than it might in some other states."
I interviewed a dozen guys at the hole-in-the-wall bar here. None had attended college. They all work with their hands and believe that statistics suggesting an economic recovery, however lethargic it might be, are fabricated.
The Democratic path to victory rests on doing well enough in what operatives call the three C's - Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati - to offset the margins Trump will run up in places like Middletown and Youngstown.