Tuesday Reads: “Indiana Is Weird”


Good Morning!!

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.

Muncie Central High School, the first secondary school in Indiana. I went to school there, but it's been gone now.

Muncie Central High School, the first secondary school in Indiana. I went to school there, but it’s gone now.

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.

Downtown Muncie in the 1960s

Downtown Muncie in the 1960s

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.

Ball State University administration building

Ball State University administration building

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….

Old water wheel at the gristmill in Old Madison, in Southern Indiana

Old water wheel at the gristmill in Old Madison, in Southern Indiana

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.

Gary, Indiana when it was a booming steel town

Gary, Indiana when it was a booming steel town

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.

Highly skilled and broadly experienced, Mediators families Lancashire work on their clients’ behalf to create the most beneficial outcomes possible.

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.

Hammond, Indiana in the early 1960s--another northern industrial city

Hammond, Indiana in the early 1960s–another northern industrial city

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.

Indianapolis Skyline © Rich Clark, 2011

Indianapolis Skyline © Rich Clark, 2011

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?


70 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: “Indiana Is Weird””

  1. NW Luna says:

    Thanks for the background on Indiana, BB. Interesting and I wasn’t aware of the nuances.

  2. janicen says:

    The Trumpology article was really interesting. Those mob ties mentioned are a concern for sure.

    Indiana will be interesting to watch. I expect Hillary to win but it is an open primary so anything can happen.

  3. As ever–would much prefer content like this in major print/tv than so much of the junk that gets discussed–especially on election days. Very nice post, BB.

  4. ANonOMouse says:

    Very good post today BB. I love Indiana, it’s a beautiful State. My grandmother was raised in Vincennes after her family immigrated to America from Sicily and we still have family scattered around in the State. My dad’s family is from Michigan and we traveled through Indianapolis on our trips North to visit. We made side trips into the Indiana countryside on many occasions, including Muncie. I always enjoyed it.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Mouse. Indiana really is a lovely state. This time of year it is just unbelievably green. I love that. In that fall, the foliage is magnificent also.

      We went camping a lot when we were kids, and one place we loved was Vincennes State Park.

    • Ron4Hills says:

      Funny to think of it now but I grew up in Dayton, Oh, and I remember wondering,the first time I heard about Richmond Virginia, if they knew about the real Richmond in Indiana. Innocent and stupid. Those were the days!

  5. William says:

    The only concern I have is that Hillary took a bit of a chance by not campaigning in the state. Now, there is no way that Sanders can catch her in pledged delegates, but there are some favorable Sanders states coming up. I would prefer not to have any narrative going around that Sanders is gaining, or Hillary is faltering, because he wins some states. Hillary’s campaign apparently decided that it was essential to go against Trump now, and to go to swing states, not to keep campaigning in primary states. That is very understandable, and probably necessary, as she cannot wait for Sanders to go away, sometime in August. Sanders refuses to concede; and if he wins tonight, you know he will make a triumphant speech. To avoid that, I might have made sure that she would win Indiana.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hillary campaigned in Indiana several times. She was in Indianapolis on Sunday. Bill campaigned in Indianapolis a few days ago and Hillary had a big event in Hammond last week. She has been in the state quite a bit. She was even there a couple of weeks ago. She just isn’t spending on TV ads.

      • William says:

        Thanks for the clarifixation. I thought I had read that Hillary had not campaigned in Indiana, so I am glad that she has done so. This will help her today. I want to win this one, as it will really stop any possible Sanders narrative going forward.

    • joanelle says:

      I agree, but Hill has to be careful to not let Trump bait her. Don’t want to see her get into the tit for tat she got into with Sanders. The Donald has better writers/researchers and is a better bully than Bernie

      • I kinda know what you mean joanelle, but my perception has been that Hillary campaigns for herself, as any politician does, and it’s labeled by the media as negative campaigning no matter what. She points out differences between herself and Bernie and it’s like OMG what?! How dare she! Meanwhile Sanders is calling her unqualified and constantly attacking her by insinuation on Citizens United (when she was the victim/target of Citizens United, not a grand ambassador of it…)

        Sorry to barge in here with my ranting today, but all my social media feeds have hit full “Berner exploding heads” hilt since last Tuesday. It’s unbearable.

  6. dakinikat says:

    Rachel on Indiana passing toughest law banning unsolicited phone calls from machines.


    why it’s hard to poll Indiana

  7. bostonboomer says:


  8. Pat Johnson says:

    I despise Ted Cruz but Trump is the most despicable person alive. There is nothing off limits – about anybody else- that he honors. He has no boundaries and this in itself is frightening.

    What are his supporters thinking? Can anyone actually see this man on the world stage spending time with other world leaders? Shocking!

    He is an unintelligent vulgarian with exactly zero experience with an overwhelming ego that is mind boggling.

    Amazing that he has gotten this far.

    • joanelle says:

      Don’t hold back Pat, let us know what you really think of him.
      I can’t stand him either!!!

    • List of X says:

      Yet his lack of principles could end up to be a good thing: Trump would easily sell the Republicans out, whereas Cruz would toe the party line. Not that I would vote for Trump, but I definitely prefer him over Cruz.

  9. Jslat says:

    Greg Sargent in WP says that Drumf is delusional if he thinks running against Hillary will be easy.

  10. Jslat says:

    Great post on Blue Nation. No Bernie did not make Hillary a better candidate. She did that herself.


    • RalphB says:

      While it’s a nice conceit on the part of the professional left, I don’t think he changed her as a candidate at all. On the other hand, running against Hillary seems to have practically destroyed Bernie as a candidate. He just can’t handle the simple fact that he’s being beaten and beaten badly.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I don’t think he changed her either, but I do think it was helpful for her to have a foil to run against. The debates have been very good for her.

    • Ron4Hills says:

      I like the phrase “corporate shill caricature.” Hills has never been sold out to corporate interests, however to our young myopic Bern victim friends anyone who takes ANYTHING into account other than their special interest must be a sold out WHORE!

      Grown ups know that in a family all quarters will be heard from…eventually. We can be functional or dysfunctional but no group is going to be ignored forever.

      No justice , no peace, but no business no jobs. Duh!

  11. bostonboomer says:

    Al Giordano thinks Bernie will win in Indiana, but not by a lot. FWIW, I have a funny feeling that Hillary may win. Either way it will be close.

    • RalphB says:

      Great post BB. Just wrapping my head around the idea that Chelsea will be able to explain to her children that both her parents were President. Heck of a thought.

  12. RalphB says:

    Michael Cohen of the Boston Globe has done the best job of anyone covering this election season so far. He’s been great.

  13. Earlynerd says:

    I loved this post! It sheds so much light on an area I worked in briefly but have never forgotten.

    A couple of decades ago, I had a short IT contract in one of the few remaining steel mills in northern Indiana (since gone under) and was lucky enough to work out of a small office tacked onto the side of a rolling mill, and could wear boots and jeans to work, rather than the suits, heels and pantyhose required in the glass-and-steel Chicago Loop building their main IT staff worked in. It was also neat coming out each day to an otherworldly cross between an Ayn Rand myth and something out of Dante’s Inferno, where every evening smoking train cars rolled past a skyline red from the coke ovens.

    The lakeside neighborhood of retired steel workers where I found a decent and low-priced apartment an incredible 20 minutes by car or commuter train from the Loop was akin to the Indiana you described: compact and ethnically diverse (in a white sort of way :)), with middle and eastern Europeans still carrying on the feuds intact from the old country, but welcoming to outsiders like myself. And the Indiana Dunes close as well! Oh, my, what a gift that state park was.

    It was so sad seeing Hammond with so many closed buildings downtown and poor Gary, with neighborhoods of people doing their utmost to have a normal life and so many succeeding but so much hardship evident in the crumbling houses interspersed among them. I very much hope they’ve recovered at least somewhat since then.

    Thank you for the evocative and interesting post – I hope my own ramble down memory lane is okay 🙂

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I have spent very little time in northern Indiana and have never been to Garry or Hammond. I’m more familiar with Southern and of course central Indiana, where I grew up.

      • Earlynerd says:

        I did get to spend some time in the pretty southern hills and briefly in Indianapolis, but not Muncie, regrettably. As you’ve written, it’s a very diverse and interesting state, especially south to north.

  14. RalphB says:

    A former aide to John McCain, who served both as the Arizona senator’s chief of staff and a senior advisor on his 2008 presidential campaign, made clear Tuesday that he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the general election.

  15. dakinikat says:

    Donald Trump just accused Cruz’s father of helping Oswald assassinate JFK.

    Donald Trump Accuses…Someone of Something


  16. bostonboomer says:

    Ted Cruz Melts Down On Trump: Brags ‘Venereal Disease Is His Own Personal Vietnam’


  17. I’m just gonna say it. If feminism could win and harassment and misogyny could lose this time around, that would be great. Otherwise the next chance will be in another 227 years, if women are that lucky.

    Also, if Bernie could lose tonight’s open primary, that would be quite pleasant as well.

    And, if he could get the karma he deserves and loses his seat instead of being rewarded for being an asshole (the norm, more what I expect to happen), that would be just wonderful.

    • Sanders can’t even speak to his signature issue of breaking up the banks.

      If you put any woman’s, say Sarah Palin’s, name next to Bernie’s comments or Trump’s comments — their hollow demagoguery and lack of any sort of policy core — people would be SCARED. Put a penis next to these comments and everyone’s ready to gamble with this country. Oh they’re anti-establishment. Yes, the two old white dudes making a mockery of coalition building. Yeah, they’re the renegades.

      • RalphB says:

        I wish you weren’t right but you’re spot on. This race has done for misogyny what Obama’s did for racism. Damn shame really!

  18. List of X says:

    My only experience with Indiana consists of looking out the car window while being driven around Indianapolis, and binge-watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix. 🙂 (And not only P&R is fictional, it’s even filmed in California, not Indiana)