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Farming still dominates the countryside around the town of Southwick, which jogs southward and is surrounded by Connecticut on three sides. Politically, Southwick is also somewhat removed from much of this blue state — and may be the most Republican town in Massachusetts.
"People out by Boston are very dependent on their government," says Nicholas Boldyga, the Republican state representative who lives in Southwick. "And I think a lot of people out here want to be independent from their government."
Southwick also has a Republican state senator and a Republican-controlled select board and school committee. And Southwick voted for Trump over Clinton by 20 points — making it one of the most pro-Trump towns in the state.
Boldyga says Southwick's identity as a farming community helps explain the conservative values of many of its residents.
"They want to farm their property, and they really want to be left alone and kind of have government basically get out of the way to allow them to thrive with their farm, with their business," Boldyga says.
'We Need A Change'
At the Legends of the Lake Cafe in Southwick, owner Patrick Smith says he voted for Trump because he wanted an outsider in the White House to shake things up.
"To take the politics out and get a businessman in there to try to reduce the deficit," Smith says. "And I liked his plan from the get-go. He's very successful, and we need a change."
Smith is confident Trump will deliver that change, even if he acknowledges some early struggles. They include a stalled effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, legal challenges to Trump's immigration policy, and allegations now under investigation by Congress and the FBI that Trump's team colluded with the Russians.
"Give him time. Why can't we just give him some time?" says Dave Marchesi, who's here for breakfast.
Marchesi works in construction and farming in Southwick. He blames Democrats for the Trump administration's early troubles.
"Stop trying to beat him down on everything he does. If he has Russian salad dressing on his salad, don't say it's because of the Russians," Marchesi says. "We're going on this for how long? Eight months now with this whole Russia theory? No Russian made me check that one dot."
Marchesi also believes that, with time, Trump will make good on his key promises.
This confidence in President Trump is consistent with WBUR's new poll of some 50 towns in this part of Massachusetts that voted for him. More than 70 percent of Republicans in these towns view the president favorably and more than half believe he will keep most of his promises.
"They think that he's going to do what they voted for him to do," says Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the WBUR survey. "That he'll keep them safe, that he'll bring economic benefits overall, that he'll work on military readiness. You know, there's a bunch of stuff that his voters are still pretty optimistic about."
According to the poll, more than 80 percent of those who voted for Trump in these towns believe his policies will improve the economy and increase manufacturing jobs. Ninety percent believe he will keep America safe and that he cares about people like them. But those numbers refer only to those who voted for him. When you factor in all of those polled, a different picture emerges.
"His overall approval ratings in these towns, he has 42 percent favorables and 45 percent unfavorable," Koczela says.
Which are better than his national numbers, but even so, his overall approval numbers are still under water — even in these towns that voted for him. According to the poll, that's explained by a sharp partisan divide, with 80 percent of Democrats holding an unfavorable view of the president.
The Less Government, The Better
That confidence in Trump — and that partisan divide — are both on display at the Roma Restaurant in Southwick, where a group of friends gather for a lunch of pasta, salad, wine and beer. Most of them are Trump supporters, like Bob Johnson, a retired electrician.
"He's not a politician. He slips over his tongue from time to time. That's a good thing. We all do," Johnson says. "If you get smooth, then you become something less for what you stand for."
Johnson says the most important issue for him is keeping America safe, and he believes Trump will do that. He also favors repealing Obamacare.
"Generally speaking, every issue — not just health care — bigger government is bad for the people," he says. "Things have to be smaller, they have to be more local, in terms of your controls, and that makes it good. And he seems to be going in that direction in most everything."
Cathy Whalley agrees with that basic idea: the less government, the better.
"Yeah, well, we're farmers, so we've had to put up with a lot of the EPA coming in and doing what they have no right to do," Whalley says.
But not everybody at this table supports Trump.
"I think — let me see if I can clean it up. I think he's arrogant," says Joanne Welch, an independent who lives in neighboring Westfield, another town that voted for Trump. "I think he's egotistical, insulting. When he does his tweeting at night he tends to be abrasive, and I don't think those are qualities that a president should have."
Dick Condron, the lone Democrat at the table, challenges his Republican friends about their embrace of limited government.
"Most of the people I know in this town are in pretty good shape — despite the fact they're knee-deep in this liberal pesthole they call Massachusetts," Condron says. "But I don't like this move to eradicate everything the former administration did."
Johnson pushes back.
"The problem is the parties themselves have failed. Hence the success of Donald Trump," he says. "People don't seem to realize we're $20 trillion in debt. Everybody's getting upset because Donald Trump and company is trying to cut things. Things have to be cut in order for us to survive as a country."
The WBUR poll found that Trump and Clinton supporters in these towns actually agree on a series of national priorities — including the need for comprehensive immigration reform, overhauling the tax code and passing a major infrastructure bill. But on this day in Southwick, fueled by some afternoon beer and wine, there seemed to be more that divided these folks than united them.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Dick Condron's last name. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on April 13, 2017.
This segment aired on April 13, 2017.
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