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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Patchwork Nation Project

patchwork nation Pictures, Images and Photos

One thing that has been driving me insane over the last few years is the driving home of this Red State/Blue state “wisdom.”  The idea of Real America vs a Faux-America, and the resultant polarization of our politics in the idea that you’re “with us” or “against us.”

And in that feeling, we have this idea that we are divided nation, who either loves or hates the country depending on what button you push at the polls, or which circle you fill on the ballot.

Dante Chinni and James Gimpel have proposed a new model for looking at the nation, beyond the simple Red State/Blue state idea. After two years, journalist Dante Chinni, and professor of government a the University of Maryland, James Gimpel, PH.D, have worked on The Patchwork Nation project. It has proposed a new way to look at the nation, beyond just the regional work of Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America.  Based more on the work of urban theorist Richard Florida, and journalist Bill Bishop–whose The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart is a fascinating read when you have the time–they examine the socio-economic and cultural divides that have sprung up in our society, and how communities across the web of counties across the nation more resemble one another than just the rubric of Red State/Blue state polarization would suggest.

For Chinni and Gimpel, they examined all 3,141 counties across this nation. With some statistical analysis of median age, income, ethnic make up, growth, housing, and cultural influence, they created a model that breaks counties down into twelve types.

Boom Towns–384 counties, with 59.3 million people. Wealthy and growing, like Eagle, Colorado. Lavish before the economic downturn, and rapidly growing communities invested heavily in construction and growth.

Campus and Careers–71 counties, with 13.1 million people. Clustered around college campuses and heavily invested in the industries that their universities are sponsoring, and emerging technologies.

Emptying Nests–250 counties, with 12.1 million people. Where Boomers and retirees are settling for their sunset years, sometimes with fixed incomes.

Evangelical Epicenters–468 counties, with 14.1 million people. Full of young families, often poorer than the national average, but with great faith, often in clashes with the other religious tribes in their midst.

Immigration Nation–204 counties, with 20.7 million people. Mostly in the Southwest, with high Hispanic populations, lower than average incomes, and a higher than average poverty.

Industrial Metropolis–41 counties, with 53.9 million people. Bastions of industry, densely packed, younger, more diverse than average, and packed with neighborhoods that are often as different as night and day.

Military Bastions–55 counties, with 8.4 million people. Packed around our nation’s military bases, with middle income families of soldiers, and those who service our bases, and deeply tied to the deployments and families of those who are left behind.

Minority Central–364 counties, with 13.5 million people. African American and Native American populations mark these communities, and often lower income and high poverty rates, with often very divided communities where race is concerned.

Monied Burbs–286 counties, 69.1 million people. Higher than average education, higher than average income, and often evenly split between parties, and opportunities for dropping relative wealth here and abroad.

Mormon Outposts–44 counties, 1.7 million people. Mostly in the Mountain West, heavily Mormon, and often rural and sparsely populated.

Service Worker Centers–663 counties, 31 million people. Centers of tourism or mid-sized towns, where employee benefits are often sparse, and folks are often only seasonal.

Tractor Country–311 counties, 2.3 million people. Farming and agribusiness rule these counties’ economic base, and often white, rural, and remote.

The one problem that I’ve always had with Garreau’s Nine Nations, was that Northampton, Massachusetts shares more in common with Durango, Colorado, than it has in common with Boston or even the Cape. Yet, there is a tendency to throw NoHo in the same category as Boston because of the locale. While Mainers share many traits, Portland is a far different place than Skowhegan. And their voting history are far different as well, and the economies and culture are far removed.  The communities of the Finger Lakes are a far different lot than the folks living in New York city, and the breakdown that Chinni and Gimpel have worked out, while some may argue is arbitrary, gives us a wider picture of the forces that work on disparate communities that often share demographics, employment and income figures, and mores. Economics, politics and culture play a role as well. While Presidential elections hinge on the electoral fall of the chips, the Chinni and Gimpel model is a tool that may become increasingly useful to help folks strategize their approaches to elections, and gives us a more complete picture than the simplicity of Real America vs the Fake America that divides and dumbs down the national debate.

Chinni and Gimpel traveled to each county across the country to gather not just data, but to talk to folks in each of these communities. Those anecdotal stories are without irony, and build up a picture of each representation, the people within, and the challenges that they face. While the simplicity of thinking of the country as just Red or Blue makes for easy graphics in the news, it does us a grave disservice, even for those of us who are still invested in Party.  Republicans from Boston are a bit different than Republicans in Nixa, Missouri. While Palin’s political base can draw from Evangelicals, it often alienates her from those in the Industrial East. And understanding these differences, and how disparate communities across the nation can share values and mores, as well as similar economic challenges can bring us, as a nation, closer together.  

If you haven’t looked at the Patchwork Nation project, I urge you to at least peruse it, as a better tool, or at least as a springboard for thinking about the nation less as polar opposites. It is a project that helps bring into focus better the disparate nature of the nation and her communities, as much as Strauss and Howe brought lifecycle influence better into focus with Generations and their cyclical model of generations in this country.

Crossposted to the Suicidal Cactus Hour


  1. They talk about Michigan as if it is either a blue state or a swing state when it is really neither. We have some urban centers that are blue, some surrounding suburban areas that are mixed, and some rural areas that are deep red. The urban areas can carry a statewide election, like senatorial or presidential, but the rest of the state can elect a lot of Republicans in other positions.

    This was a backlash year in Michigan. The Democratic governor received most of the blame for our lousy economy. That carried a GOP candidate to a sweeping victory in the governor’s race. We were lucky we didn’t have either Dem senator up for re-election. The GOP now controls the government of this state. They hold the governor’s mansion, both houses of the state legislature, the high court, the Attorney General office, and the secretary of state. I have no idea which way Michigan will go in the 2012 election.

  2. fogiv

    This is important stuff.  I’m probably more mean, bitchy, and sarcastic that average, and even I’m getting awfully tired of seeing ‘repugs’, repukes, etc.  We get so caught up in all the animosity that we become blind to all that binds us (which is often much more than what divides us).  The media bolsters (and absolutely fucking relishes) the divisions.  It’s become an MMA fight, in perpetuity.

    The left is just as bad as the right.  The irony of pious libruls at places like Dkos decrying the hatred of the Tea Party folk just before or after they deftly pronounce their own hatred for Joe Lieberman, or Blanche Lincoln, or most often Obama.  

  3. HappyinVT

    Of course, we did give Obama/Biden the largest percentage win behind IL (or HI) and DC but head out of Burlington and the state isn’t all blue.  They are good people who don’t want government intrusion.  A lot of more centrist types voted for the almost-former Republican governor to balance the Dem-controlled legislature.

  4. Jjc2008

    I have to say I disagree.  Not that there is a patchwork quilt as is shown.  But I believe that there is segment in the red that is so dug in with their hatred of the left, of this president, that nothing is beneath them and no reasonable person from the right is even heard.  Yea, bloggers called W names all the time.  But I never heard one elected democrat come even close to talking about and treating him disrespectfully at all.  From Alito, to Bachman to McConnell, the leadership of the right has stirred hatred and resentment worse than I can remember ever and have openly disrespected the president.

    So no, I am not sick of the anger on the left blogs. I want more of it but mostly I want it from the president, from the House and from the Senate.  And if it takes bloggers displaying anger to get it moving so be it.

    Sadly my ability to believe we are all more alike than different, that we would do better to understand the tea baggers, rather than resent/name call/hate them, is gone.

    I listened today as I heard President Obama say he takes “Kyl at his word” (regardling the blocking of the START treaty).

    Call me anything you want, a divisive person, bitter, whatever, but I disagree with the president and I sure as hell do not take Kyl at his word, any more than I take the majority of teabaggers at being “grass roots” or populist.  They sure as hell may believe in their own cause but it is not a cause of populism when it is funded and spun by Dick Armey, the Koch brothers.  Do I believe some tea bag people are being duped?  Sure do.   But imo too many are just like their heroine Sarah Palin: self serving, all about her 15 minutes of fame, and about getting rich.  And when I hear people on the left who so easily trashed Hillary wanting us to be more tolerant, less name calling of Palin, I want to cry. One of the most intelligent, most passionate fighters for the rights of women and the poor was trashed by the left, while some on the left now want us to wear kid gloves with Sarah less we are labeled sexist?

    Do I think some on dkos (or any of the blogs) are over the top with the rhetoric.  Sure as hell do.  But that was happening in the primaries too. So it’s no surprise.

    In the end, my view is this: I was for Hillary but then when Barack won, like most, I supported him 100% and then some.   More than anything I wanted him to be what we needed.

    Am I disappointed?  Yes.  That does not mean I will stop pushing and supporting him. It means I want him, and the House and the Senate to stop playing this stupid, “maybe we can get bipartiship; or I take so and so at their word.”

    Kyl, along with McConnel and Boehner want to destroy Obama’s presidency and please their rich masters and will put the politics to do that ahead of the middle class who need help; ahead of the country’s safety.  Right now I can name about one republican who is willing to stand up to the right…Lugar. And that’s it.   The sheeple, the tea party  on the right will listen to them and are willing to do ANYTHING to get their way and that includes hurting the unemployed, sick people, and poor people.  

    Call me the meanie, the liberal, whatever. I am sick and tired of the greed and bigotry getting a pass. No passes from me for people willing to remain ignorant of the facts.  And that is what I see from the right.

  5. Jjc2008

    And he has to have others from Gibbs, to Pelosi, to Reid, to say it over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

    That’s what the right does.

    Say it over and over.  Make sure someone from the left brings it up as often as possible.

    Sorry but imo, none of us, not Obama, not the congress, not the bloggers can play victims to the media bias.  We all know it’s there.  Fight, scream loud enough to be heard…..

    or find other ways to be heard.  

  6. it seems to be completely off topic. I read this diary as pointing out that the country isn’t about red states vs blue states. The division is real, but it is more on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. Hell, not even that. It’s almost a neighbor vs neighbor division. There are deep red states, most of the deep south and Utah, and there are deep blue states, like MA. However, there are pockets of blue in those deep red states and pockets of red in deep blue states. Show me a state that votes 100% GOP or 100% Democratic. I live in a deep blue district in a purple state, but I’ll bet money that some of my neighbors voted differently than I did. I’m also willing to bet real money that some of them don’t agree with my political beliefs.

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