Wednesday, November 27, 2013

American Nations continues to receive attention from around the country. Here's a roundup:

The emeritus editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register, Richard Doak, had this column Sunday on Iowa and the American Nations, and approved of most of the state being assigned to the Midlands:

"Middle class. Moderate. Standard American. Yes, that describes some of what we like to think of as Iowa characteristics. We might add traits such as a strong work ethic and a certain mind-your-business standoffishness softened by a help-your-neighbor instinct. [...]
And so Iowans share a common culture that overrides regional differences. Woodard calls it the Midlands culture. We might call it Midwestern or just plain Iowan.

Whatever, we should celebrate being the “most American” of Americans. And we should work to stay that way and not tolerate the polarization that’s tearing the rest of America apart."
In the Tribune-Star - on the border of central Indiana and Illinois -- there's this OpEd from Indiana State University sociologist Thomas Steiger. He concludes:

"My interpretation of Woodard’s essay is that we can pretty much culturally divide ourselves with how we answer this question: How do you view “human nature?” Are humans inherently good and “perfectible” or are they inherently “bad,” prone to violence and we must be eternally vigilant lest our neighbor take advantage of us. It’s not whether humanity is or is not like this, it’s what we believe because we act on those beliefs.

We will find the evidence to prove our cultural beliefs. We will form policies and institutions that reflect these basic assumptions, hence, forming culturally separate “nations.”"
Meanwhile, Bill Track 50, the state politics junkie site, had this plug. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch picked up Reid Wilson's essay from the Post. And blogger JayMan had some fun superimposing the American Nations map over Canada's census results for reported ethnicity by census district.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Virginia governor's race: debunking the "urban vs rural" explanation

Earlier this month at Washington Monthly, I wrote about the strong regional divide in the Virginia governor's race, suggesting the distinct political preferences of Tidewater and Greater Appalachia best explained the results of yet another Tea Party vs Not election.

A number of commenters suggested this was nonsense, repeating the conventional wisdom that the race pit urban and rural Virginia against one another, with Democratic money man Terry McAuliffe capturing the former. They're wrong.

This week, also at Washington Monthly, I presented the data, which refutes the received wisdom:

In Greater Appalachia, Cuccinelli won every category of county, from the very largest cities in the section (where he won 49.1 to 45.7) to counties without so much as a big town (62.8 to 30.8). In every category save the largest (category 2 in Greater Appalachia), he won by more than 20 points.
 By contrast, in Tidewater, McAuliffe won by large margins in counties large and small, taking five of the six categories. In the biggest cities he won 56.3 to 37.3. In the most rural counties he won by a convincing 51.0 to 41.1.
Virginia being home to half the Beltway crowd in Washington, the piece has gotten considerable attention. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum suggested the analysis offered nothing new, suggesting regionalism's importance has always been understood in Virginia's politics. Ryan Cooper at the Monthly's flagship Political Animal blog said the data had shaken his "understanding of the underlying realities of politics." 

The Wall Street Journal's MoneyWatch columnist Darrell Delamaide gave the most detailed treatment, describing some of my past work and saying:
"If Tidewater, the region where most of our Founding Fathers came from, has remained true to its sense of “noblesse oblige” and drifted away from the Republican Party as it has become more stridently intolerant, other regions may also be ready for change."
Meanwhile, my original post on Virginia was picked up by one of that state's important dailies, the Fredericksburg-based Free Lance-Star, and (with permission) run as an OpEd.

Comments on the new data focus on two criticisms.

One is that race is an important factor. I agree, but note that the profound difference in demographics between the two sections in this regard is itself a historical/cultural phenomenon and an outgrowth of the different founding characteristics of these two regions.

The other is that Virginia has more than two regions. True enough on a finer scale -- you can say the same of most anyplace -- but at the level of continental significance, I stand by the two-region division, though I acknowledge that Virginia has always had a wide transitional zone -- the Piedmont -- so the border between the two can be fuzzy in spots. Tidewater gentlemen -- Jefferson the foremost exemplar -- dominated much of it, but acted as colaition builders between the two sections, as they understood Appalachian concerns and principles better than their lowland peers in the House of Burgesses.

Now I'm really looking forward to a governor's race to analyze in, say, Ohio....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Talking American Nations on Bloomberg Television

I was a guest yesterday on Bloomberg Television's Street Smart, talking about American Nations. Everyone involved was working on the fly because a major story was developing at the same time. It was, oddly enough, actually a lot of fun, at least for me. The pros on the other end made it all look pretty normal.

Here's the backstory:

Minutes before I was to go on -- via live hookup from Bowdoin College -- the segment producer learned of an upcoming announcement related to the JP Morgan Chase settlement with the federal government, which would be the lead story of the day on mainstream news outlets, not just business ones. As a result, we'd likely be doing just a minute and half, the producer advised me over my ear piece, but we'd know more as it happened.

We started the segment -- prior outline out the window -- and one minute and a half in they cut to an impromptu commercial break (edited out of the online video), probably to figure out if they they needed to bail directly to the breaking news. The producer told me we might or might not be coming back to me depending on timing of the other development. Ninety seconds out, it was decided to stay with the segment . The rest of the interview was improvised -- pretty well, it seemed to me when I finally watched it online this morning. (I can't "see" anything that's happening from Bowdoin's studio.) Always impressed with how news anchors can pivot and improvise in these situations, given the time constraints and need for focus and simplicity in the medium.

In any case, a fun experience, and thanks to the Street Smart team for their interest and the attention to the American Nations framework.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On the Midlands, from the Omaha World-Herald

I've been greatly appreciative of all the attention paid over the past ten days to American Nations, but especially so this thoughtful meditation on life in a Midlands city on the front of  Sunday's Omaha World-Herald.

Many journalists and commentators have thoughtfully captured and described the book's framework, but columnist Erin Grace's column went further. It contributed and furthered the discourse on what that great swing region, the Midlands, is all about, with the voice of someone who -- unlike me -- actually lives there. She writes:
"If you want to test this theory, look at how we do things in Omaha. We are a Republican mayor and a Democratic-majority City Council. We are concealed-carry permits and legal protections for gays and transgender people. We are a 2nd Congressional District that went blue for Obama in 2008 but still elects Republican Lee Terry cycle after cycle.
We are also the reason [area Republican Congressman] Lee Terry has to eke out his wins with, I'm guessing, an ulcer or two. This makes us share more in common with places as far-flung as the City of Brotherly Love than our reliably Republican neighbors to the west, such as North Platte. [...]
When it comes to our individual views, you can drive down any street in America and find people on opposite poles.
 The difference in Omaha, it seems, is that we accept that, work with that and come out somewhere in the Great American Middle."

And, to top it off, her World-Herald colleagues even made a fresh color version of the map. Thanks, Omaha.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

American Nations media frenzy

As regular readers of this space know, American Nations went viral late last week, more than two years after its publication, with interest rapidly spreading into mainstream media.

Over the past week, I'm pleased to say that has developed into a nationwide media frenzy of sorts, capped off by yesterday's interview with Chuck Todd, host of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown. My thanks and appreciation to Todd and his crew for their interest and for so efficiently and accurately setting up the book's paradigm in their introduction.

By Friday afternoon, the book's overall sales rank at Amazon hit #50, an all-time high for one of my titles.

In addition to the interviews and features described or previewed last Sunday, here is a small sample of the attention the book and framework received in this unusual week:

Columnists at a number of big city dailies weighed in on whether I'd gotten their region right, at least based on what they understood from the Washington Post or Tufts Magazine articles. (Few, understandably, got to read the actual book before their weekly deadlines.)  

The Oregonian's David Sarasohn essentially endorsed it, but thinks his state's two cultures get along better than the same ones in, say, California. Up in Washington State, this blogger used the paradigm to analyze Boeing's "regional divide."

Kevin Horrigan at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just doesn't understand what the map and model are really about, and criticized it for things the book explicitly doesn't say, but it was still nice to have the attention. (Alas.).  By contrast, Ralph De la Cruz at the Dallas Morning News thoughtTexans have been successfully "map pegged."

[Update, 11/17/23: The Omaha World-Herald's Erin Grace had this beautifully-executed piece on The Midlands, Nebraska, and the American Nations in this morning's paper, complete with a new color map.]

South Floridians are up in arms at not being included within the eleven nations I treat in the book. (Would it help if I told you Hawaii and Newfoundland aren't either?) The Miami New Times thought I was arguing that the area "shouldn't be considered part of the United States" (sigh), but at least acknowledged they hadn't read the book. (To my surprise, a lot of their commenters seemed to endorse the idea that Miami "isn't really America", suggesting this is an emotive issue thereabouts.)

I had an enjoyable conversation with Brian O'Neill at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about whether Allegeheny County belongs in the Midlands or not -- he's sticking with Appalachia though. The Santa Fe Reporter offered no judgment, but expressed relief that they weren't part of New France. Jack Craver at The Capital Times in Madison, wondered aloud if Wisconsin would still qualify as part of Yankeedom under the Scott Walker administration.

Much further afield, there was the Irish Times, whose U.S. correspondent, Simon Carswell, unpacked the model for his country's readers, saying it "helps navigate a greater understanding of what drives people in this vast, eclectic country."

The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog had their own piece, as did Andrew Sullivan's The Dish, and the Raleigh News &Observer.

Lots of other papers reprinted the Washington Post piece, which went out on the Post's news service late in the week, from the Tampa Bay Times to Tokyo's Japan Times.

I also had fun chatting with my Portland Press Herald colleague Greg Kesich about the book and the secret of going viral in our in-newsroom television studio Thursday. Earlier today I chatted with the host of CJAD's Viewpoints in Montreal, but alas, the segment isn't up online yet. The one I did with Lakeshore Public Radio in (the Yankee bit of) Indiana earlier in the week is though, as are the previously plugged NPR, BBC, KPCC, and KPFA pieces.

And, finally, the Free Lance-Star of Fredereicksburg, Va., Friday published my recent Washington Monthly piece on the regional divide in the recent Virginia governor's race as an OpEd. Thanks for your interest.

Now to get some sleep....

Monday, November 11, 2013

Talking American Nations on BBC, MSNBC, NPR, others

As I wrote yesterday, my most recent book, American Nations, has gone viral more than two years after it was originally published. Now major media outlets are taking interest as well. Here's a compendium for anyone who wants to follow along:

Yesterday, I was a guest on BBC World Service Radio's Newshour. You can hear the program here, and my segment starts at 44:00.

This afternoon, November 11, I was on NPR's Tell Me More, which you can listen to here. They also created this blog post, which has been mirrored on dozens of public radio affiliates around the country.

Tomorrow, listeners in Greater Los Angeles can tune in to my discussion with Airtalk's Larry Mantle on Southern California Public Radio flagship KPCC. It sounds like it will be at about 11:30 Pacific. [Update, 11/15/13: Listen to it here.]

On Wednesday morning, watch my appearance on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd. That should start at about 9 Eastern. [Update, 11/12/13: That's now scheduled for the same time Friday instead.] [Update 11/16/13: Watch it here.]

And for those of you in the Bay Area, start your day with me over at KPFA in Berkeley, the first and oldest listener-supported radio station in the country. I'm scheduled to appear on Morning Mix at about 8am Pacific.

For those who prefer to read, today there's this on American Nations from the (lowbrow) New York Post and this from the (highbrow) American Conservative.

And if you're in western Maine and are totally sick of hearing about American regionalism, come to my live, old fashioned talk at the University of Maine Farmington on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine, subject of one of my previous books, The Lobster Coast. That kicks off Wednesday at 5pm in the Thomas Auditorium, Preble Hall.

[Update, 11/16/13: The media frenzy continues.]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

American Nations goes viral

Over the past four days, I've had the novel and enjoyable experience of having my work go, as they say, "viral" on the interwebs. Between Thursday morning and this (Sunday) evening, the map and ideas laid out in my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, shot first around the country, and then the world, initially building speed organically on social media, then getting the attention of first the "new media," then a prominent blog at a major newspaper. Next thing I know I'm being interviewed by the BBC World Service's Newshour, pretty much the coolest place ever for a former foreign correspondent to find himself.

Here, as far as I can put together, is the anatomy of my viral experience.

I wrote the cover story of the new issue of Tufts Magazine, the alumni publication of the university I attended, on the regional differences in violence, as clarified through American Nations. As hoped, it generated a lot of discussion -- some angry responses, a lot of positive ones -- and I plugged the piece last week over at Washington Monthly, where I post regularly on the paradigm and its implications in current events, like this week's election in Virginia. Things carried on quietly enough for a week and -- apart from some nice praise from the alumni magazine media critics at UMagazinology -- nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

But by Thursday morning, something was clearly brewing. Facebook friends were having the piece posted on their timelines by people outside my network from all over the country. Strangers started tweeting about it. Its sales rank on Amazon -- "crack for authors", my agent calls it -- started surging. In mid-morning, the web 'zine-cum-group blog Boing Boing posted this short plug for not only the Tufts article and the book, but for Republic of Pirates as well. (Thanks, guys!) I started getting e-mails from radio stations requesting interviews.Prominent figures were Tweeting the article.

Then, early Friday afternoon, the Washington Post's widely-read GovBeat blog piled on with this piece, which soon seemed to be absolutely everywhere. The Post's The Fix, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, and Der Spiegel tweeted my AmNat map to their combined half million followers. On Saturday, National Public Radio emailed about an interview. By this afternoon I was  on the BBC World Service's Newshour (0:49) whilst the London Daily Mail and Mexico's El Diario were posting articles based on the Post piece. My e-mail inbox runneth over.

As for the book, Amazon ran out of paperbacks earlier today and looks on the verge of selling out on hardcovers as well. If something of the sort is happening at bricks-and-mortar stores, it would seem the book has found some new audiences. And I'll never again doubt the power of digital social networks to disseminate ideas. If only one could figure out how to predict what makes one go viral.

[Update, 11/11/13: The American Conservative's Rod Dreher writes this afternoon: "I’ve received that map, and the accompanying story, about fifty billion times in the past week."]

[Update, 11/12/13: An update on the continuing media frenzy here.]

Friday, November 8, 2013

Regional divisions in the Virginia and New Jersey governors' races

This week's off-year U.S. elections featured two closely-watched gubernatorial contests. In Virginia, Democratic Party insider Terry McAuliffe squeaked by a Tea Party firebrand Tuesday in a race much closer than pollsters expected. In New Jersey, incumbent Gov. Chris Christie -- a relative moderate in the G.O.P. these days -- won re-election in a resounding landslide.

The results of both elections -- one close, the other a rout -- reflected the regional cultural fissures that cut each of these states in two. (See American Nations if you've no idea what I'm talking about.)

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote about the almost mirror-image differences in voting in Tidewater and Appalachian Virginia over at Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square. This morning I added a piece on New Jersey, where Christie did significantly better in the (South Jersey) Midlands than New Netherland.

Both have significant lessons for national politics. Virginia shows the Tea Party is doomed outside Greater Appalachia, the Deep South and the Far West. And if Christie's support in the rest of the Midlands is even a shadow of what it was in Midland New Jersey this week, he could prove a formidable candidate in 2016. Details over at the Monthly.

Thanks also to Ed Kilgore, the Monthly's Political Animal, for his posts on both the Virginia and New Jersey pieces today, which include some additional insights from an Appalachian native son.

[Update, 11/23/13: This post provides links to updated data and third party commentary on the power of regionalism in the Virginia race.]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

National Journal: "What if we redrew state boundaries?"

The new issue of the National Journal includes a fun "what-if" piece on how the boundaries of the U.S. states might be better drawn if it were possible to do such a thing.

Staff writer Alex Steitz-Wald writes:
Federalism is a wonderful idea, but it can't be entirely realized with the current map. States are meant to act as "guardians of a common interest," as James Madison wrote in Federalist 46, but common interests—whether economic, cultural, or political—are often split by antiquated and arbitrary state lines.
And, I'm pleased to say, he goes on to introduce the cultural fissures described in American Nations and quotes from our discussion last month. Here's an excerpt of the latter:
Any sensible map, says author Colin Woodard, should ignore the existing political borders in favor of the country's latent cultural fault lines that developed organically over hundreds of years of colonialism and expansion. "There has never been one America but several Americas, each with their own cultural values and unique takes on what the American experiment should be," says Woodard, the author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. New England Yankees, for instance, have a communitarian streak dating back to the days when their Puritan ancestors crossed the Atlantic in search of a theological utopia. Meanwhile, the Scots-Irish who populated the remote hollers of Appalachia brought with them a fiery libertarianism evident in today's tea-party movement.
Indeed. But I've said too much already: read his piece for more on my own and other people's thoughts on this topic. (And if you missed my recent Tufts Magazine cover story on the American Nations and violence, you might want to check that out too.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Speaking on American Nations in Cape Elizabeth, Nov. 3

Tomorrow evening I'll be presenting the American Nations paradigm at the annual meeting of The Cape Elizabeth Land Trust here in Maine.

It's at the Purpoodock Club on Spurwink Road in Cape Elizabeth from 5 to 7pm. It's open to the public, but I understand one should RSVP --  (207) 767-6054 or by email at --.and that space may be running short at this point.

In addition to my presentation, CELT Executive Director Chris Franklin will provide a brief year in review and a look ahead. CELT will also announce the winning bid of the recently announced silent auction of Henry Isaac’s painting, Homer House from the Cliff Walk, Prout’s Neck. Information about the silent auction is available on CELT’s website at

For those already planning to attend, here are a couple of recent magazine articles pertaining to the book: the first on the regional variations in violence in the US, the second musing on how state borders might be redrawn.

Hope to see some of you there.

Friday, November 1, 2013

In U.S., violence is a regional issue

                                           [Cross-posted from Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square:]

In my book, American Nations, I argue that we’re not one country, but several, and have been since the colonial era. We may be bound up in a generally successful federation, but our greatest internal crises - the Civil War, the corrosive effects of Jim Crow, the recent threat of federal default - have been due to inter-regional conflict. Recognizing the true regional geography of our country, you’ll continue to hear me argue, is essential to understanding our history, identity, and national pathologies.

Two years ago in the Washington Monthly, I argued that the Tea Party was doomed to national irrelevance because its agenda is anathema to the deep underlying cultural values of a vast swath of our federation. Earlier this month here at Ten Miles Square, I showed how this had come to pass, with the Tea Party fast becoming isolated in the regions I’ve described as the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, and the Far West. (See this map: )

But the paradigm is helpful not just for understanding voting behavior, but positions on important economic, social, and moral questions as well. A case in point:

In the new issue of Tufts Magazine - out this week - I offer this cover story on the remarkable regional variations in American violence and attitudes toward violence in both its public and private forms. By almost any metric - assault and murder, gun control voting, capital punishment - the same pattern shows up. On one hand, a set of regional cultures with indices of and attitudes toward violence that are similar to those of Canada or Western Europe, on the other, regional cultures with rates of violence many times higher, and policies to match.
Consider assault death rates and capital punishment policies:
Kieran Healy, a Duke University sociologist, broke down the per capita, age-adjusted deadly assault rate for 2010. In the northeastern states—almost entirely dominated by Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Midlands—just over 4 people per 100,000 died in assaults. By contrast, southern states—largely monopolized by Deep South, Tidewater, and Greater Appalachia—had a rate of more than 7 per 100,000. The three deadliest states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where the rate of killings topped 10 per 100,000—were all in Deep South territory. Meanwhile, the three safest states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, with rates of about 2 killings per 100,000—were all part of Yankeedom.
Not surprisingly, black Americans have it worse than whites. Countrywide, according to Healy, blacks die from assaults at the bewildering rate of about 20 per 100,000, while the rate for whites is less than 6. But does that mean racial differences might be skewing the homicide data for nations with larger African-American populations? Apparently not. A classic 1993 study by the social psychologist Richard Nisbett, of the University of Michigan, found that homicide rates in small predominantly white cities were three times higher in the South than in New England. Nisbett and a colleague, Andrew Reaves, went on to show that southern rural counties had white homicide rates more than four times those of counties in New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern states.
The pattern for capital punishment laws is equally stark. The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.
So why would violence - state-sponsored or otherwise - be so much more prevalent in some regional cultures than in others?
It all goes back to who settled those regions and where they came from. Nisbett, the social psychologist, noted that regions initially “settled by sober Puritans, Quakers, and Dutch farmer-artisans”—that is, Yankeedom, the Midlands, and New Netherland—were organized around a yeoman agricultural economy that rewarded “quiet, cooperative citizenship, with each individual being capable of uniting for the common good.” The South—and by this he meant the nations I call Tidewater and Deep South—was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values … from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue.”
Continuing to treat the South as a single entity, Nisbett argued that the violent streak in the culture the Cavaliers established was intensified by the “major subsequent wave of immigration … from the borderlands of Scotland and Ireland.” These immigrants, who populated what I call Greater Appalachia, came from “an economy based on herding,” which, as anthropologists have shown, predisposes people to belligerent stances because the animals on which their wealth depends are so vulnerable to theft. Drawing on the work of the historian David Hackett Fisher, Nisbett maintained that “southern” violence stems partly from a “culture-of-honor tradition,” in which males are raised to create reputations for ferocity—as a deterrent to rustling—rather than relying on official legal intervention.
Understanding these regional differences in violence and their deep historical and cultural roots makes it easier to understand why this country has had so much trouble finding national consensus on issues like gun control, gun rights, and capital punishment. On the other hand, the paradigm isn’t as helpful in parsing this. But everything has its limits.