America is more than the coasts and everything else

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

As a transplant to the midwest who has come to think of himself as a true Michigander (or Michiganian, or whatever), I read with interest The New York Times article titled “the Death of the Midwest Democrat has been Greatly Exaggerated.” I am a Democrat, I live in the Midwest and consider myself a midwesterner, I have raised a family here, so I was happy to see that my ilk are still breathing. While the article itself was positive, some of its assumptions left a sour taste in my mouth, and an understanding of some of the problems we face in our country.

America is a very diverse place. In this article, the author equated the political environment in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kansas. While we in Michigan may view ourselves as part of the same region as Wisconsin, Kansas is a very different place. Few actual midwesterners would consider Kansas part of the midwest.

This concern is more than just a personal gripe. Part of what much of the country resents about Democrats is our seeming elevation of coastal elites. It is ironic that our party is the one viewed as elitist while the Republicans work to take away healthcare from millions of Americans while they give expensive tax cuts to the rich. But the New York Times lumping together virtually the entire country between the coasts into one region shows that this criticism is not without basis.

Political scientists have shown that the United States, including the massive region the New York Times characterized as “the midwest,” is actually made up of a number of very different political regions. McKee and Teigan (2009) for example, broke the country up into five regions, and Kansas was not in the midwestern one. The Census Bureau divides the country into nine divisions, and again, Michigan and Kansas are in different ones. Similarly, Parag Khanna argued that the United States could be realigned into seven political and economic mega-regions. This is just to name a few classifications, but to my knowledge, none of them lump Kansas and Michigan together.

Although I have never lived in Kansas, I have lived in rural Colorado, whose demographics match Kansas’s well. I can tell you that the concerns and attitudes of voters in each state are very different. Although it does have a substantial farming economy, the bulk of Michigan tends to be industrial and diverse. Religious affiliation is not a big deal here. Colorado, on the other hand, was driven over concerns about farming, and the presence of different groups of people was minimal. Religion matters a lot there: I was repeatedly asked, as a young man, what Church I went to and whether I was married yet. I have never faced those questions in Michigan.

If Democrats are to win nationally, we need to understand that America is more than just the coasts and everything in between. That attitude reveals a disdain for much of the country that I can assure you, the people who live in those parts of the country are aware of. The place to start in understanding the voting patterns of people in much of the country is to stop looking down on them. Until we recognize the diversity and uniqueness the rest of our country exhibits outside of the coasts, we will never be able to truly understand much of our country.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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