Tuesday Reads: “Indiana Is Weird”Posted: May 3, 2016
Today there’s only one primary–in Indiana, the state where I grew up. We moved to Muncie, Indiana when I was 10 years old. My father had gotten a job as an Assistant Professor at Ball State University. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but Muncie ended up being home for my parents.
In 1929, sociologists Robert Staughton Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd published Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, a comprehensive study of a so-called average American small city. From the book (via Wikipedia):
“The city will be called Middletown. A community as small as thirty-odd thousand…[in which] the field staff was enabled to concentrate on cultural change…the interplay of a relatively constant…American stock and its changing environment” (1929: p. 8).
It was later revealed that Muncie was “Middletown.” As you can well imagine, many folks in Muncie were not happy to be known as average in every way.
The Lynds and a group of researchers conducted an in-depth field research study of a small American urban center to discover key cultural norms and better understand social change. The first study was conducted during the prosperous 1920s, beginning in January 1924, while the second was written, with far less fieldwork, late in the Great Depression in the United States.
The Lynds used the “approach of the cultural anthropologist” (see field research and social anthropology), existing documents, statistics, old newspapers, interviews, and surveys to accomplish this task. The stated goal of the study was to describe this small urban center as a unit which consists of “interwoven trends of behavior” (p. 3). Or put in more detail,
- “to present a dynamic, functional study of the contemporary life of this specific American community in the light of trends of changing behaviour observable in it during the last thirty-five years” (p. 6).
The book is written in an entirely descriptive tone, treating the citizens of Middletown in much the same way as an anthropologist from an industrialized nation might describe a non-industrial culture.
In 1937, the Lynds published a follow-up study: Middletown in Transition : A Study in Cultural Conflicts
So that’s the place where I spent my later childhood and adolescence, and I didn’t like it very much. I left for Boston when I was 19, and never looked back except for visiting my family. Nevertheless, I’m still a Midwesterner at heart. I tend to be open and friendly–I say “hi” to strangers on the street and and will talk to just about anyone if they’re willing to talk to me.
Today I have a lot of affection for Indiana. It is a beautiful place and I like that it’s still mostly rural with no huge cities–although Indianapolis is has grown dramatically and is more cosmopolitan that it used to be.
Muncie has changed a lot too. It is still a small city, but it is no longer dominated by the auto industry as it was when I was growing up. Then there were lots of factories where car parts were built and shipped up to Detroit. Much of the population growth in town came from people who moved up from Kentucky and Tennesee to work in the car factories.Today, Muncie’s largest employer is Ball State University. It used to be a Republican town; now it’s majority Democratic. It’s a completely different place than the town I grew up in.
Whether Muncie would still qualify as “middletown” average, I don’t know. It definitely is racially diverse, and today Ball State has many students from foreign countries. Some of them end up staying long-term, as happens in many college towns.
FiveThirtyEight published an interesting piece over the weekend called “Indiana is Weird,” by native Hoosier Craig Fehrman. The thesis of the article is that Abe Lincoln’s father Thomas was a typical Indiana guy.
Indiana, which is 86 percent white, may seem demographically similar to nearby states like Ohio (83 percent white) and Wisconsin (88 percent white). But, in truth, Indiana is a much stranger place than it’s given credit for, with a history and heritage that divide it from other Midwestern states. The Hoosier State was settled from the south and isolated from cultural change, and you can still see the effects of that today. In fact, that’s why it’s actually pretty hard to predict how Indiana will vote in its primary. That’s why, if you really want to understand Indiana, you need to go back to the time of Thomas Lincoln.
Thomas moved from Kentucky to Indiana in 1816, the same year Indiana became a state. The direction of that move is crucial to making sense of Indiana today.
A lot of Americans were moving in the first part of the 19th century. After decades of frontier violence, after unfair treaties with the Native Americans, after new laws that allowed for the buying or claiming of land, the Midwest finally opened up. Of course, no one called it the “Midwest” since it was not yet the middle of anything. It was the west, the fertile expanse that came to be called the Old Northwest: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Among those states, and from the very beginning, Indiana was unusual. The Ohio River made it easier for Southerners to enter, and they settled the state from the bottom up. Thomas Lincoln was born in Virginia, migrating from there to Kentucky and then to southern Indiana. It was a typical itinerary, and Thomas was a typical early Hoosier….
The prevalence of people like Thomas is also what made Indiana unusual. In 1850, census canvassers started asking Americans where they’d been born, and by looking at state residents who were born in the U.S. (but not in their current state), we can see just how much Indiana stood apart from its neighbors in the Old Northwest. Let’s start with people born in New England, the “Yankees” widely considered to be better educated and more ambitious than their peers. In 1850, only 3 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from New England. (The Old Northwest average was 10 percent.) Only 20 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from Mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania and New York. (The Old Northwest average was 42 percent.) But a whopping 44 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from the South — easily the highest percentage in the Old Northwest, where the average was 28 percent.1
Just as important as their numerical advantage, the Southerners got to Indiana first and thus dominated its early politics. (At the state’s constitutional convention, 34 of the 43 delegates hailed from below the Mason-Dixon Line.) They created its local culture, shaping everything from what Hoosiers ate to how they worshipped.
What about today?
In the 21st century, Indiana has started to shift in some small ways. It now boasts more residents who were born outside of the state than Ohio or Michigan does. (Indiana also scores better than them on some measures of racism.) More striking, though, are the ways in which Indiana has stayed the same. Among its Old Northwestern peers, Indiana ranks last in median family income. It ranks last in the percentage of residents who’ve completed a bachelor’s degree. It ranks first in the share of the population that is white Evangelical Protestant and in the share of residents who identify as conservative. On these and a host of other measures — percentage of homes without broadband internet, rate of teen pregnancy, rate of divorce — you’ll often see Indiana finishing closer to Kentucky or Tennessee than to Ohio or Wisconsin. In other words, you’ll see 200 years of history making its presence known.
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Read more at FiveThirtyEight. I found that really interesting, but my own additional observation is that Indiana is in some ways like three different states. It’s a very “tall” state geographically. Southern Indiana is very rural and–other than Bloomington, the home of Indiana University–there are lots of people with Southern roots. The countryside is very hilly and it’s a gorgeous area. In the middle part of the state where I grew up, the economy was based on farming and, of course manufacturing. Geographically, it’s pretty flat and treeless. Up north in the lake region there’s even more manufacturing–including the famous steel mills of Gary and Hammond–and not as much farming. The geography is more like Michigan and northern Illinois.
Even though Indiana has a very large evangelical population, I have to believe that Trump is likely to win over Cruz. FiveThirtyEight gives him a 97% chance of winning the state. But with Indiana, you never know.
It’s not clear what will happen on the Democratic side. Hillary will not be in the state tonight and doesn’t have a speech planned, so maybe she doesn’t expect to win. She did make several appearances in Indiana though. She is leading in the few polls that have been done, and Nate Silver has her with a 86%-91% chance of winning. Regardless of who wins, it’s not likely to make much difference in terms of the delegate race.
USA Today’s prediction plays off the FiveThirtyEight article, For the Record: Stay Weird, Indiana.
We’ve got 57 Republican delegates up for grabs in Indiana, and they’re winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district. What are Cruz’s chances of winning them? As we noted Monday, one poll puts him up by 16 percentage points. Another says Trump is up by 15. So, we don’t really know. This could either be an epic win or an epic fail, and the political explanation for each will either be Cruz’s early VP pick and short-lived John Kasich alliance, or … yeah. That’ll pretty much be the explanation, win or lose.
No matter the outcome today, pontificators will likely explain that Cruz lost (or won) because Indiana is “weird,” as the FiveThirtyEight headline put it. The state isn’t like any of its neighbors demographically or ideologically, so it’s hard to make comparisons based on how other Midwestern states voted.
Indiana has a huge blue-collar manufacturing base and a lower median income than nearby states. It also more closely resembles 1950s America – where a majority White population happily lives in small towns – than any other state. Those factors have given Trump the advantage elsewhere. But see above: Indiana ain’t like other states. Keep it weird, Hoosiers, and throw off all of us armchair pundits.
So we’ll see what happens tonight. I’m not sure if we’ll need a separate post for tonight’s results, but Dakinikat will put one up if this thread gets too long.
A few more links to check out:
Jed Kolko at FiveThirtyEight: ‘Normal America’ Is Not A Small Town Of White People.
Alex Seitz-Wald at NBC News: Indiana Will Test The New Democratic Reality.
Believe it or not, this op-ed is from Fox News: Any Republican who thinks it’s better to elect Trump than Hillary needs their head examined.
Washington Post (Karen Tumulty): The Daily 202: Trump looks past Indiana primary today to campaign against ‘Crooked Hillary.’ (Sigh . . .)
Michael Cohen at The Boston Globe: Bernie Sanders declares war on reality.
I highly recommend this long article at Politico–an interview with five people who have written biographies of Donald Trump and his family: Trumpology: A Master Class.
Washington Post: I sat next to Donald Trump at the infamous 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner, by Roxanne Roberts.
What stories are you following today?