Michael Lind: Behind the Red State-Blue State Divide

Roundup: Historians' Take

Michael Lind’s new book, "Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States", will be published in April and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.

...Given the importance of geography in our politics, you’d expect political reporters and other commentators to be explaining why different regions vote in different ways. Unfortunately, you can watch many successive 24-hour cycles of political news coverage without getting any adequate analysis of political regionalism.

It’s not that America’s political commentators lack interest in demographic factors that influence politics. On the contrary, they are obsessed with a small number of demographic characteristics, chiefly race and sex. Viewers or readers are told endlessly about the gender gap and racial/ethnic differences in voting. But you would fall asleep waiting in vain for a political reporter on TV to explain differences between the Highland South and the coastal South or to describe the distinctive political culture of the states in the Midwest settled by New Englanders.

In the world of our political media, there are generic whites, generic Latinos and generic African-Americans from coast to coast. The categories are sometimes refined by class, but this still produces hopelessly vague descriptions — treating Italian-Americans in Rhode Island as though they are part of the same generic “white working class” to which many Scots-Irish Tennesseans and Norwegian-American North Dakotans also belong. These fuzzy definitions all too often harden into cartoonish stereotypes like the “Angry White Male” of a few decades ago or “NASCAR Man” more recently.

A news junkie who follows the American political media could be forgiven for thinking that the American people are divided by race and gender, and perhaps religion, but not by regional culture. And yet the evidence says otherwise. Latinos in Texas vote differently than Latinos in California. Scholars have established that members of the same religions — Protestants, Catholics and Jews — tend to be more socially conservative in the South than in other parts of the country. Regional political culture is a powerful independent force, not a mere reflection of the numbers of particular demographic groups in particular territories....

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