Was the Driftless Area Obama’s ace in the hole?

Almost everyone finds mysteries interesting.  Almost everyone thinks the American Midwest is boring.  But what if there was an interesting mystery in the American Midwest?  Take a look at this election map showing the winner by county. (America has about 3000 counties.)

What do you see?

At first glance you see that Romney won most of the land area, because he won the rural areas.  But take a closer look.

Now you see there are a few rural areas that he didn’t win; New England, the band of counties from North Carolina to Mississippi with large black populations, the Hispanic counties on the Tex-Mex border, the iron range of northern Minnesota, Native American counties out west, and some Colorado ski resort areas.  But basically Romney won the rural areas.  Except . . .

Do you see it now, or do I have to re-enact that famous scene from “Blow Up” (the first art movie I ever saw, and the scene I’m referring to absolutely blew my mind as a young teenager.)  Let me help you with a close up:

Do you see it now?  There’s a big blob of counties where Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois come together, which are solid blue.  Why is that?  These are counties with farms and small towns, there are basically no cities of any size.  The biggest city is Madison, population 200,000, which is the big blue county in south central Wisconsin, on the eastern edge of the blob.  I grew up in Madison, but I don’t have a clue as to why those counties further west are blue.  I always assumed western Wisconsin was exactly like north-central and eastern Wisconsin—full of corn and dairy farms, and small towns with one church and 4 bars.  Counties full of people with northern European backgrounds.  Everywhere else in the Midwest the farm areas went for the GOP, except that strange blob that overlays parts of 4 states.  A few of those counties may have small cities with a few manufacturing firms, but look how uniform that blue area is.  There is obviously some difference that explains this, and now I feel like we should have been taught in school that southwestern Wisconsin is really weird.

Or perhaps we were taught in school, and I wasn’t paying enough attention.  There is in fact something weird about southwestern Wisconsin.  The glacier that covered North America during the Ice Age missed this area; indeed it went completely around it, leaving it hillier than normal for the Midwest.  It’s called the “Driftless Area.”  If you grew up on the coasts you’ve never heard of this area, because nobody on either coast finds the American Midwest to be at all interesting. They rather go visit Paris or Bali.

So here’s a map of the Driftless area:

Whoa!  That is exactly the same area as the strange blue blob of rural Obama voters.  This is beginning to resemble a Stephen King novel, or H.P. Lovecraft. What’s going on in them thar hills?  You might argue the blue extends a bit further south into Illinois, but that’s probably the Quad cities area, which is somewhat more industrialized.  The mysterious blue farm counties almost perfectly match the Driftless Area.

If these counties were red like “normal” rural counties are supposed to be, the race would have been closer.  Indeed if the national vote had gone 3% more toward Romney, then those counties might have been the difference that kept Iowa and Wisconsin blue.  I wish that had happened.  Suppose Romney had won Ohio, Virginia and Florida, but still lost the election because he was one state short.  And he would have come close in Iowa and Wisconsin, but not close enough. Obama would have been elected President because a bunch of white farmers in the Driftless Area voted for a liberal black Democrat, while just about all the other white farm counties in American were going for Romney.  It was Obama’s ace in the hole had the election been closer.

Why did farmers who settled hilly areas become more liberal than farmers who settled flat parts of eastern Wisconsin?  I have no idea. The Appalachian and Ozark regions are far hillier than the Driftless Area, but are strongly red.  It’s a mystery.  Only God (or Nate Silver) knows the answer.

PS.  When I was young I used to skip out of high school and bicycle out to the Driftless Area on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  It was one of those “open campus” high schools, and I hated school.  Now you know why my grammar is so poor.

PPS.  The Straight Story (a hugely underrated David Lynch film), involved an old guy travelling from northeastern Iowa to southwestern Wisconsin.  When you New Yorkers watch the film, think about the fact that that is OBAMA COUNTRY that he’s travelling through—and start reconsidering you prejudices about the rest of America.

PPPS.  The old guy reminded me of my dad.

PPPPS.  Since we are travelling back to my home state, take a peak at this picture of a huge dragon that my brother and his girlfriend built out of concrete right outside his “house” (which is a converted 1918 auto dealership in rural Wisconsin.)

If you enjoyed this post please support the economy of small town Wisconsin by buying some inexpensive homemade earrings for yourself, or your wife/girlfriend/daughter/niece, etc.  At this website. Produced by the artist who designed the dragon.

Don’t be a free-loader.



95 Responses to “Was the Driftless Area Obama’s ace in the hole?”

  1. Gravatar of Jonathan Cast Jonathan Cast
    9. November 2012 at 11:46

    So, apparently hillbillies aren’t the future of the Republican party after all 🙂

  2. Gravatar of John Hall John Hall
    9. November 2012 at 11:54

    I lived six years in the Quad Cities, so I found this post fascinating even if you dismissed it.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2012 at 11:58

    Thanks John.

  4. Gravatar of Andy Gardner Andy Gardner
    9. November 2012 at 12:00

    It would be interesting to see voting patterns by crop or farm size. I conjecture that flat farmland is more conducive to factory farming and receives more in crop support payments; whereas, hilly farms might be more likely to be family farmers.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    9. November 2012 at 12:03

    Bad internet access?


  6. Gravatar of Cthorm Cthorm
    9. November 2012 at 12:21

    As always, you underrate yourself Scott. Now I’m wondering what the hell is up with the driftless area. Has it always been so blue?

  7. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    9. November 2012 at 12:29

    I grew up in the Driftless area and am still driftless.

    This area was originally settled by Norwegian and German immigrants, but there are a good number of Irish descendants as well. That means roughly 50 percent Protestant and 50 percent Catholic and zero percent Mormon. There are (or at least were) hardly any minorities. The area includes Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, as well as several liberal arts colleges and state universities. My guess is that those colleges and universities tipped the balance from red to blue, although the area has always had a rough Republican/Democratic balance. It also seems to attract a fair number of “back to the earth” types due to its unique geography.

    I think you are right about the importance of this area to Obama—the Driftless area likely explains his wins in the three states of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

    BTW, the journey depicted in the Straight Story began in Laurens, Iowa, which is in Northwest, not Northeast Iowa. Richard Farnsworth deserved an award for that film.

  8. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    9. November 2012 at 12:32

    My guess is that these are areas of Scandinavian and/or Canadian settlements. The area in NE Minnesota and northern Wisconsin along Lake Superior is also heavily blue. I visited there recently and every “speaks” Canadian and often fly Canadian flags. The “driftless area” also happens to be along the Mississippi river, which probably attracted Scandinavian and Canadian settlers from the Superior region.

    Just a guess, though. If you don’t like Obama, blame Canada!

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2012 at 12:40

    Steve, Yes, but northern Wisconsin and NE Minnesota is not agricultural. That’s why the Driftless Area stands out.

    Vivian, Thanks for that info. I partly agree with you. But I don’t think the small colleges explains this mystery. There are some small colleges in eastern Wisconsin as well, and the pattern is strikingly uniform. Many of those farm counties would not have any colleges at all. I think your ethnicity comment might be part of it, but I was under the impression that eastern Wisconsin (which is Republican outside Milwaukee) is also northern European, with some Irish.

    Farnsworth was great. Should have won best actor.

  10. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    9. November 2012 at 12:47

    “but northern Wisconsin and NE Minnesota is not agricultural”

    Then how come I saw farms and hay bales when I was driving through the Superior, Wisconsin area? Yes, much of the forested, but there are plenty of farms, too. The Lake Superior-Mississippi River was also an important waterway for early trade (probably French/Canadian trappers).

  11. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    9. November 2012 at 12:56

    North Dakota has become solidly Red, but would seem to have mostly the same migrant stock (Norwegians & Germans, a few Danes and Swedes). ND did just elect a Democratic senator to replace Kent Conrad, but that was a bit of an upset.

    “Prairie populism” used to exist in both North and South Dakota, but has lost out – or maybe it was co-opted by Republicans? But why hasn’t the same happened to Minnesota, Wisconsin, & Iowa? The hills?

    You raise a really interesting question, Scott.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2012 at 12:58

    Steve, That big county is Duluth. Most of that is north woods vacation land, or unionized iron minig areas.

    There may be a few farms, but it’s vey different from the rest of the Midwest. Far fewer people as well (outside the cities.)

  13. Gravatar of Kevin Donoghue Kevin Donoghue
    9. November 2012 at 13:05


    Interesting question. Quick googling leads to Robert Marion “Fighting Bob” La Follette, Sr. and Progressivism, which apparently was big in that area. Ancient history now, but maybe it left a legacy?

  14. Gravatar of Kevin Donoghue Kevin Donoghue
    9. November 2012 at 13:09

    A link on that story:


  15. Gravatar of Neal Neal
    9. November 2012 at 13:12

    Progressivism was big all throughout the Midwest – why did it stick in the Driftless area and not in, say, Indiana?

  16. Gravatar of mobile mobile
    9. November 2012 at 13:22

    I’d like to take credit for the whole idea of publishing county-by-county election results, so I will.

  17. Gravatar of Adam Adam
    9. November 2012 at 13:35

    Clearly the Mississippi has mysterious liberalizing qualities. Maybe some lingering effect of the river as a conduit of trade?

    I also think there are a fair number of liberal arts colleges in the area, which actually might have something to do with it. But maybe that’s just an impression based on the endless number of mailings I got from forgettable little colleges in high school.

    But I think Vivian probably touches on more key issues. This area is probably more strongly German than much of country. Rochester and it’s medical community certainly account for much of the blue in southeastern Minnesota. There is some resort/retirement living along the river (although I guess what I’m specifically thinking of is farther north, above Winona, MN). Industrialization (at least of beer) might be bigger deal in Lacrosse than first glance would suggest.

    In my experience, though, western Wisconsin has four churches and four bars per town. Wait that doesn’t sound right either. The point is lots of both churches and bars per capita. My mom grew up in a town of about 700 people, and I think four of each institution.

    You’re right about NE Minnesota (Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties), which are scarcely populated and more about mining and wilderness tourism than agriculture. The ethnic mix is even more strongly German and Eastern European, unionized, and pretty fiercely progressive in its own special way.

  18. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    9. November 2012 at 13:41

    Scott, I guess you are postulating that economic incentives drive farmers to vote Republican, hence the driftless area is weird.

    I’m posulating cultural factors explain the difference. Nordic and French Canadian settlers. Towns like La Crosse, Dubuque, and Prairie Du Chien.

  19. Gravatar of Jon Moen Jon Moen
    9. November 2012 at 13:48

    Glaciation makes you conservative. That or lack of cheese curds.

  20. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    9. November 2012 at 14:16


    The driftless area has several of the very limited number of Norwegian dominated counties. They’re surrounded by Germans … And think of the transition region between the two in Europe: Denmark!

  21. Gravatar of Jason Jason
    9. November 2012 at 14:19

    Glaciation also deposits lots of fertile soil and is more productive. The driftless area would be less productive … And maybe more disposed to small-s socialism.

  22. Gravatar of Liberal Roman Liberal Roman
    9. November 2012 at 14:33

    Incredible & fascinating post. This seems like something for Malcom Gladwell, Nate Silver, Steven Levitt or some ambitious Political Science grad student to explore.

    A little bit off topic, but what do we all here make of the sell off post election. I think the market wasn’t surprised Obama won, but was surprised the gains he made in both houses of legislature. This makes a rise in MTRs almost inevitable now and I think that was worth 500 points off the Dow right there.

  23. Gravatar of Bill Ellis Bill Ellis
    9. November 2012 at 15:27

    Scott… I enjoyed this post very much.

    Just throwing this out there…

    Large corporate farms work best on large tracts of Level land. The larger and leveler the better.

    Could it be that the hilly nature of the “Driftless Area” has better utility when worked by smaller farmers ?

    If so then the difference in voting could be explained by which party serves the smaller farmer better.

  24. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    9. November 2012 at 15:34

    What were the percentages in those and surrounding red counties? Maybe the surrounding counties gradually become more republican.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2012 at 15:50

    Not much time, but none of these really work. The Midwest as a whole has few big corporate farms. I’m pretty sure the ethnic make-up isn’t that different from other parts of Wisconsin. Certainly there are Germans all over Wisconsin. The Missipppi river isn’t really the issue; lots of those countries are well inland. The few small cities like LaCrosse can’t explain all the rural counties far from a city.

  26. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    9. November 2012 at 18:08

    Looked up some stats on Dubuque:

    ~60% registered democrat
    ~80% catholic
    -voted for Eisenhower, then JFK, and democratic every president since
    -low unemployment, but few wealthy
    -UAW Caterpillar plant

    SW Wisconsin had similarly high democratic registration
    religion was closer to 55/25 catholic/lutheran

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. November 2012 at 18:33

    Steve, I’m not surprised about Dubuque, it’s the rural counties . . .

  28. Gravatar of Alan Alan
    9. November 2012 at 19:00

    There are a couple Norwegian-dominated counties down there, but a lot up in North Dakota, and North Dakota isn’t particularly Democratic-leaning, despite its socialistic state-owned bank & mill.

    It looks like eastern Iowa was Obama’s best region in the 2008 Democratic caucuses, where Obama got his first big win, so the pattern holds between elections:

  29. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    9. November 2012 at 19:03

    I predict Tyler will link to this.

  30. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    9. November 2012 at 19:04

    Right now the latest MR post is about a new John Cochrane paper on the credibility of the gold standard…

  31. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    9. November 2012 at 19:11

    Scott, why would us increasing our purchases of earrings from Wisconsin have anything to do with the economic fortunes of the people in Wisconsin? I could expect such nonsense from the Richmond Fed, but you?!

  32. Gravatar of J J
    9. November 2012 at 19:55

    This is only a guess but it may be tied to any remaining legacy from the New Deal and the soil conservation programs in the area. Coon Valley to the west of Madison was the site of one of the first (possibly the first) soil conservation demonstration sites constructed by the Soil Conservation Service and the Civil Conservation Corps. The program drastically improved the soil issues in the valley and a region that had voted heavily Republican in the 1920s largely switched party affiliations by the end of the 1930s and actively worked with the federal government on soil conservation issues. (Neil Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 115-131).

    The 1930s was a long time ago but the soil conservation area and the democratic counties match up pretty well and the farming legacy would account for the rural counties.

  33. Gravatar of cb cb
    9. November 2012 at 20:13

    The effect disappears slightly when you you shade by percentage of votes


  34. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    9. November 2012 at 20:46

    I’ve encountered no fewer than four hypotheses about this area:

    1) institutions/culture brought by the immigrant population (Vivian’s argument above)

    2) It’s not really as rural as you think – a very small part of the population is in farming, even in areas with a lot of farms, because they are so mechanized…



    So, these are really strongholds of the unionized manufacturing sector (auto, and auto suppliers).

    3) Yes, it’s farms, but it’s all the ethanol subsidy. [This doesn’t explain why nebraska, kansas, etc. are red, though.]

    4) It’s a function of the local parties and institutional history. This whole area – and the entire midwest – had a strong progressive anti-eastern-money tradition going back to the Jacksonian era. This area had stronger grass roots parties that kept more of that intact, which is more or less an accident of history.

    Personally, I think it’s amazing that there are between 20 and 100 counties in the US that determine the entire election. I’m still weirded out whenever I think about the county official who designed the butterfly ballot in 2000.

    I’m not even sure if #DrunkNateSilver could have predicted that…

    Well, OK, but ONLY if he was really drunk

    Also, I don’t go in for earrings – does s/he make wind chimes?

  35. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    9. November 2012 at 21:26

    I looked up the Prairie Du Chien economy, and they have apple orchards, vineyards, and organic dairy farms for a portion of their “agribusiness”. That’s driven by the hilly geography creating varied soil conditions.

    As Statguy says, it could be an accident of history: some of the oldest settlements in the US, progressive tradition, Catholic majority, unions, subtle influence of geography.

    My general impression from travelling in the midwest (and much of the rest of the country for that matter) is that lots of areas have large transplant and/or transient populations, driven in part by boom and bust cycles. The Dakotas in particular have large transient populations. But if populations are able to remain intact for longer periods, they can retain more unique characteristics.

    P.S. Isn’t rural Vermont progressive, but rural New York conservative?

  36. Gravatar of Luke Carlson Luke Carlson
    10. November 2012 at 01:21

    I’m from Rockford, Illinois (that blue county on the border with Wisconsin in the center), so I find this post really, really interesting.

    I thought if I could explain Jo Daviess County (it’s the one in the far north-west corner of Illinois) maybe the rest of the region would make sense. I compared it to Ogle County, which is a red county just south of Rockford (according to Wikipedia, it has been one of the most reliably Republican counties in the country for 150 years). I can’t tell why one would vote Democrat and the other Republican.

    All the farmers I know around Rockford (the flatlands) are usually very conservative. That group includes folks who own apple orchards and the ones who grow corn for personal consumption or cattle. These folks own flat, very fertile land. This describes Ogle County.

    Whenever I go to Jo Daviess County (I usually go to Galena) it does LOOK very different: beautiful rolling hills replace the flatness, and forests become much more prevalent. I thought maybe that the forests meant that there were just fewer farmers in Jo Daviess County than in Ogle County.

    After looking at a bunch of census tables though, both counties have many more people employed in manufacturing, retail, and tourism than agriculture. The ethnic make-up of the two counties is very similar: 30-40% German, 10% English, 10% “American”, 10% Irish. They’re really similar, except Ogle went 57% for Romney and Jo Daviess went 49.5% for Obama.

    I find all the explanations mentioned dissatisfying as to why Jo Daviess (and the entire Driftless Region) is different. It’s still a mystery to me.

  37. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    10. November 2012 at 02:13

    “I’m pos(t)ulating cultural factors explain the difference. Nordic and French Canadian settlers. Towns like La Crosse, Dubuque, and Prairie Du Chien.”

    Cultural factors perhaps, but there are (were) hardly any French Canadian settlers in this area. The names of cities you mentioned above (one could add Marquette and Joliet, e.g.) were due to the fact that the Mississippi river was explored by, yes, Marquette and Joliet. The names have nothing to do with actual immigration. Most French Canadian immigrants settled in the extreme Northeast of the US.


    As far as cultural factors are concerned, I think the Catholic issue is interesting and important. The area is more Catholic than the rest of the country (and perhaps surrounding areas). As I look back on growing up there, I think there were two types of Catholics: The first took the religion as religion seriously and tended to be conservative. The second, and perhaps more predominant type was a Catholic who tended to stress moral and ethical values (aside from religious doctrine, per se) and tended to be liberal politically. I think the second type predominated, particularly among the Irish. If you think about it, how conservative are the Irish Bostonians? As a group, there are highly liberal politically, I think. There was much talk of Romney taking most of the Catholic vote because of ObamaCare mandates; however, I suspect that played a very minor role in the outcome. The same with respect to abortion, which oddly enough, I suspect is a bigger issue among evangelicals than Catholics. As noted above, Dubuque and the surrounding is, in particular, Catholic.

    Demographically, things have changed somewhat. I recall reading about the big immigration raid on the Orthodox meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa some years ago which is smack in the middle of the Driftless area. I now read that the plant has re-opened with legal, albeit immigrant labor. That likely helped one or two counties in Iowa go Obama.

  38. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    10. November 2012 at 03:12

    Vivian, Arnold Kling said similar things about Protestants in this post: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/09/arthur_brooks_o.html

  39. Gravatar of cornflour cornflour
    10. November 2012 at 09:13

    I don’t have the numbers at hand, but I’m an ex-geologist who grew up in Iowa, so I have some observations that aren’t entirely imaginary.

    It’s already been noted that Rochester and the Quad Cities are on the edges of the driftless area, and have their own stories. For the rural part, this is a gentrification story.

    The driftless area is very pretty country, and by Midwestern standards, the climate isn’t too bad. It was always poor land for farming, and earlier generations ran small hog and dairy farms. These were never very competitive, and don’t survive in large numbers. Starting in the 1960’s, back-to-the-land people started buying land and lived (some still living) a vaguely hippie lifestyle. Later migrants were more middle class, or even wealthy. They started B&B’s, organic dairy farms, organic apple orchards, goat farms, restaurants, etc. A few are artists and craftsmen. There are quite a few hobby farms. Most of these people have come from the Chicago area and are very liberal. A very small number of them are conservatives of the “crunchy con” sort.

    Not all of the local people have left, but they are now called “the locals.” It’s the newcomers who swing votes to Democrats like Obama, but not necessarily to more old-fashioned local Democrats. For those with Midwestern myopia, think of New York and Vermont a generation earlier.

  40. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. November 2012 at 09:47

    Everyone, Thanks for the good comments.

    Statsguy, Interesting points, but I don’t see manufacturing as explaining things. Areas like Indiana and even Eastern Wisconsin have far more manufacturing.

    I’ll check about the wind chimes.

    cornflour, Thanks! That’s the best answer yet. It’s surprising how large an area has been affected. Almost like it’s the New England of the Midwest.

  41. Gravatar of Tony V Tony V
    10. November 2012 at 11:07

    Very interesting post. Got me curious, so I made some excess vote share maps back to 1980:


    Eyeball statistics suggests there wasn’t anything coherent about the driftless area until 2000 or so, unless I’m missing something.

  42. Gravatar of ChacoKevy ChacoKevy
    10. November 2012 at 14:41

    Interesting posts like these won’t help your title defense of monomaniacal blogging this year…

  43. Gravatar of Dirk Dirk
    10. November 2012 at 15:00

    Maybe Obama’s campaign machine targeted this area. As your post makes clear, it would have been a strategic area to target. The claim has been made that Obama’s campaign was much more sophisticated and numbers oriented than Romney’s.

  44. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    10. November 2012 at 15:27

    This is totally off topic but I read the most depressing Financial Times article today:


    “In the spring, Poland’s central bank raised rates to 4.75 per cent. The decision – which was followed by weaker growth – was widely criticised and was reversed earlier this week when the central bank cut rates.”

    Given the extreme tightening of fiscal policy in the past year Belka’s interest rate increase was extremely unwise. The Polish economy has softened considerably as a consequence.

    “For Mr Belka, monetary policy becomes unorthodox once “real” interest rates turn negative…”At the same time we sent a strong signal that we stick to positive real interest rates,” Mr Belka said during a visit to London.”

    Belka doesn’t seem to understand that the necessity of pursuing “unorthodox” monetary policy becomes much more likely the tighter monetary policy is. Causing a recession will certainly send a strong signal.

    “”We are lucky [in Poland] because all unorthodox measures, as indispensable as they may be at the moment, produce distortions that will have to be unwound in the future.””

    It wasn’t luck. He’s acting as if the economy is like the weather. It’s the central bank that determines the state of the economy. This interview is incredibly depressing.

    “What about the “unorthodox” measures pursued elsewhere? Mr Belka has, like his counterparts in other emerging markets, criticised the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve for the impact of ultra-loose monetary policy on emerging markets.”

    [Bangs head on keyboard.] Belka clearly doesn’t understand that monetary policy stance has nothing to do with nominal interest rates or the size of the monetary base. It is about inflation and the rate of NGDP growth.

    The Narodowy Bank Polski (NBP) did an brilliant job in 2007-2010 totally avoiding recession (the only country in the EU that did so). It devalued the złoty by about 30% between July 2008 and February 2009 with respect to the euro, more than any other floating exchange rate member of the EU:

    (link on next comment)

  45. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    10. November 2012 at 15:27



    Belka was obviously not in charge of the NBP back then.

    SÅ‚awomir Skrzypek was the President of the NBP during that stellar run.

    What happened to Skrzypek? He died in April 2010 when a plane transporting a number of Polish notables, including the President of Poland Lech Kaczynski, crashed enroute to a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Katyń massacre.

    Skrzypek was only 46 years old, may he rest in peace. (Only the good central bankers die young.) He will be sorely missed.

    In contrast Belka is a complete knucklehead. God help the Polish economy.

  46. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    10. November 2012 at 15:33

    By the way I recently constructed the following interesting list:

    EU ranked by forecasted 2012 real GDP (2008=100)
    Source: IMF


    A third of the floating exchange rate members are outperforming even the best performing eurozone member and even the worst performing floating exchange rate member is outperforming five of the 17 eurozone members. Two thirds of the floating exchange rate members are outperforming even the best performing EU member pegged to the euro, and even the worst performing floating member is outperforming two of the four pegged members.

    We can also look at things regionally, to take into account policy spillover.

    Take the Baltic for example. Which countries are doing well there? Poland and Sweden. Which countries are doing the worst? Latvia and Lithuania. The main differences are clearly currency regime.

    On the other hand take the Balkans. Which countries are doing the best? Bulgaria and Romania. Which countries are doing the worst? Greece and Slovenia. Here there’s less uniformity. The real question is why is Bulgaria doing so well, and without researching the issue I have no immediate answer.

    What about the Czech and Slovak Republics and Hungary? Well, based on my readings, The Czech Republic has been running very tight monetary policy, probably in consideration of euro entry, which is in my opinion a huge mistake. The Slovak Republic benefited from heavy automobile manufacturing investment concurrent with early euro entry prior to the crisis to take advantage of its inexpensive labor. (It also doesn’t hurt that it borders Poland, which is obviously booming.) Hungary is a supply side basket case beset with a whole lot of pseudofascistic political problems.

    So yes, there are idiosyncracies but monetary policy (currency regime) explains a lot of the differences.

  47. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. November 2012 at 17:35

    Mark, What sort of NGDP growth has Poland had over the last year or two?

    Last week a Polish reporter interviewed me for about 30 minutes.

    Thanks Tony, Very interesting graphs.

  48. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    10. November 2012 at 18:14

    Here’s Poland’s NGDP growth at an annual rate for the last 8 quarters:


    For comparison Poland’s NGDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.9% from 2001 to 2011, and by 5.4% and 7.5% in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

  49. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    10. November 2012 at 20:43

    cornflour, What’s a “crunchy con”?

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    10. November 2012 at 22:11

    Mark, So I take it you aren’t criticizing the policy, just the logic?

  51. Gravatar of RebelEconomist RebelEconomist
    11. November 2012 at 01:31

    I am not a right winger, but if I was, I would attribute it to harmful mutations caused by radioactivity from exposed ancient shield rocks.

  52. Gravatar of cornflour cornflour
    11. November 2012 at 03:56


    A crunchy con is a green conservative, or counterculture conservative. Rod Dreher coined the term and wrote a book about the people.

    The book is entitled:
    “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party)”

    The “crunchy” part comes from granola. By the way, most people in these groups hate the book and the term “crunchy con.” It was probably unfair and a little careless of me to use the term; but maybe it’s not too sinful for a casual comment on a change-of-pace blog post.

  53. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    11. November 2012 at 05:39

    Thanks, that book sounds full of LOL.

  54. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    11. November 2012 at 08:46

    The performance of the NBP was more or less ideal prior to this year. Then I started reading things indicating the economy was in serious trouble.

    After reading that FT article I think I know what has changed. Belka took over after Skrzypek’s tragic death in April 2010 and his statements clearly imply he doesn’t know what he is doing.

  55. Gravatar of Philip Crawford Philip Crawford
    11. November 2012 at 09:52

    I spend a good amount of time each summer in the driftless. This summer my steer, Eeyore, spent his days grazing in the hills around Viola.

    My opinion (at least of the WI part of the driftless) is consistent with cornflour above. Consider Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago to be feeders of progressives to this area – people looking to live in a beautiful rural area, somewhat near Madison. The beauty of the driftless makes it much more of a destination for someone from Chicago than say, Dodge county.

    I’ve known several Madisonians (and UW grads) who have moved out to the driftless to startup CSAs and other small farms. Also, Organic Valley is headquartered in La Farge (Richland county), and they also pull left leaning people into this rural area.

    In Sauk county there are places like Reedsburg, that had it’s own Fermentation Festival (http://fermentationfest.com/) and an example of Chicagoans who moved to the area would be Jay & Donna:

    Richland county is very rural, but has people like Mark Shepherd, who is one of the more well known permaculturists in the US (also where Eeyore spent his summer)

    In Iowa county there is Spring Green, with Taliesin and

    Several people I know (from Madison) have decided to live in that area – CSA type farming mostly, which gives them a rural life, but still very close to Madison for their “urban” fix.

    I expect these counties to become more blue as this trend continues. It’s a beautiful area.

  56. Gravatar of Dave Schuler Dave Schuler
    11. November 2012 at 10:00

    Landgrant colleges.

  57. Gravatar of Kain Kain
    11. November 2012 at 15:11

    Hey, here’s one argument: It’s all the demographics stoopid. The Driftless area has, in comparison to the rest of the Upper Midwest, a higher concentration of Americans from Scandanavian origin, primarily Norwegian, whereas German ancestry predominates most of the more Republican-leaning counties (but often not overwhelmingly so, as in white anglo-saxon/scots irish/’american’ districts).

    It’s a bit eerie to think about it, but this is one of the better visual arguments for the notion of Path Dependency: http://www.swingstateproject.com/diary/7331/why-wisconsin-votes-as-it-does

    With the exception of Milwaukee county (which had a major influx of black Americans up to the beginning of the post-war era), German migration patterns from 120 years ago more or less determine if a county is Republican or not in the last decades worth of elections. Kind of shocking to think that our political habbits are merely the outcome of ancestral upbringings? In any event, this could also describe why the Republicans in the upper Midwest also tend to be on the more moderate side (compared to elsewhere in the country, generally speaking) and don’t necessarily mind the interventionist Republican – same thing in the North Dakotas and Nebraskas of America.

    I also suspect you’d find some interesting results if you mapped out the Norwegian and Swedish ancestries throughout the upper midwest (Finnish in the Upper Penninsula would also be interesting)… you know, some interesting questions for hard-pressed poli sci PhDs to ponder at 😛

  58. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    13. November 2012 at 06:53

    Note to GOP:

    Next time, remember liberty.

  59. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. November 2012 at 06:54

    Mark, If there’s a problem one doesn’t see it in the NGDP data.

    Philip, Good comment.

    Kain, Interesting, but I’d like to see the Scandinavian map.

  60. Gravatar of Election Mysteries: The Big Blue Driftless Area – Hit & Run : Reason.com Election Mysteries: The Big Blue Driftless Area - Hit & Run : Reason.com
    13. November 2012 at 07:28

    […] Sumner spots something fascinating in the election […]

  61. Gravatar of JPCousteau JPCousteau
    13. November 2012 at 07:53

    Do note that the same trend holds in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections as well.

  62. Gravatar of Election Mysteries: The Big Blue Driftless Area – Unofficial Network Election Mysteries: The Big Blue Driftless Area - Unofficial Network
    13. November 2012 at 08:21

    […] Sumner spots something fascinating in the election […]

  63. Gravatar of bugs bugs
    13. November 2012 at 08:28

    Ah, this is my home! Born in southwest Wisconsin where my parents are from & where I have much family, and grew up mainly in Waterloo, IA which is around 65K people but similarly industrialized to the Quad Cities and with quite an urban vibe to it, as well as some of the highest African-American concentration in the state, & growing population of hispanics and immigrants. Just to the west is Cedar Falls, a university town, University of Northern Iowa. Just south of this area you’ve got Iowa City, home of University of Iowa, staunchly liberal area there. Traveling around places like Decorah there’s a definite crunchiness in the air.

  64. Gravatar of Eric Hosemann Eric Hosemann
    13. November 2012 at 09:55

    Immigration from the Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee metro areas might explain this mystery, or a part of it at least. Having spent much of my childhood and teenage years in this area I know their are many wealthy retirees in the area.

  65. Gravatar of jomama jomama
    13. November 2012 at 09:59

    Can’t speak to other areas but I live in the Quad Cities. The area is a bit larger in population than people might think. Rock Island and Scott counties alone now over 300,000. That’s bigger than the city of Cincinnati proper for instance.

    Small manufacturers? Hmm. Like John Deere, Alcoa, Oscar Mayer, Rock Island Arsenal.

    Union votes helped don’t you think?

  66. Gravatar of Jon Boeckenstedt Jon Boeckenstedt
    13. November 2012 at 10:28

    A simpler, gentler theory.

    Everyone knows Iowa and Obama have a little thing going; he won against the odds in the Iowa primary, a black man in an overwelmingly white state.

    With few exceptions, all these areas are in Iowa-dominated media markets: Western Illinois gets its media from Dubuque and the Quad Cities; SW Wisconsin from Dubuque, and of course, Iowa from Iowa.

    In this case, familiarity did not breed contempt.

  67. Gravatar of Herbs Herbs
    13. November 2012 at 13:04

    So the consensus is it is liberals or wealthy retirees moving from the cities?

    Can we see this in any other areas?

    For example, look at Wyoming. 1 county blue. Jackson Hole. (Teton County). Idaho (where my family is from…. Sun Valley (Blaine County), and Latah County (ONLY thing there is University of Idaho).

    Arizona. Flagstaff.

    There might be something to that. But then again, there are lots of odd ones all through states like Montana, North and South Dakota, that I suspect don’t have a lot of liberal retirees living there.

    Marquette County Michigan…only blue in the UP. Northern Michigan University??

    Something tells me there is just too much going on demographics-wise to really be able to narrow it down to 1 or 2 slam-dunk factors.

  68. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    13. November 2012 at 13:22

    Something tells me there is just too much going on demographics-wise to really be able to narrow it down to 1 or 2 slam-dunk factors.

    You must be new to this blog 🙂

  69. Gravatar of penglad penglad
    13. November 2012 at 21:29

    we have a weekend house in the area, and it is BEAUTIFUL and full of kind-hearted, well-educated people who are fighting in the last 3 years against the onslaught of frac sand mining interests (from 5 to 65 mines in under 3 years) that threaten to destroy our homes and our resources. republican governor walker proclaimed wisconsin “open for business” and has followed through with very little regulation, so that’s my guess.

  70. Gravatar of Philip Philip
    14. November 2012 at 07:51

    Another related analysis

  71. Gravatar of adam adam
    14. November 2012 at 08:57

    I live in La Crosse, and this blog post has been making the rounds. It is nice of you to point out the particular politics and cultural habits of the Driftless Area, but if you really wanted to know the answers, you probably could have asked someone.

    There’s a lot going on here, culturally speaking. We have an incredibly strong union tradition, not just in manufacturing — which has largely decamped from here, like much of the Upper Midwest — but our teachers unions are especially strong, and our schools of such high quality that we don’t fear public institutions. We also have a significant amount of large public colleges and small liberal arts universities, and our populace is generally well-educated.

    The hospitals in Rochester and La Crosse are also national leaders in quality and models of cost-effectiveness. We see Obamacare as a virtue and the campaign to repeal it as short-sighted.

    To much of America, we would be considered rural and agricultural — but we don’t practice the sort of industrial farming that sweeps across the wide, red plains. Due to our Driftless hills, small family-operated farms are still the norm here. These farms generally don’t receive the sort of subsidies that seem to buy the votes of the large Republican rural bloc. We also have the largest concentration of organic farms in the United States, which attract the sort of back-to-the-earth individualists that a few posters have alluded to.

    I could go on and on and on. We’re Scandinavian. We don’t fear the government. Our unemployment is low. We’re social moderates. We don’t mind other people’s business. We’re Midwest nice. We’re raised to care about other people’s welfare. And as long as the GOP continues its extreme rightwing divisive politics, the Driftless Region is going to stay blue.

  72. Gravatar of mapbuff mapbuff
    14. November 2012 at 13:35

    Here are some sites explaining how geography affects the election with that blue arc in the south



  73. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. November 2012 at 07:49

    mapbuff, Thanks, that’s very interesting.

  74. Gravatar of Jeffrey Eldred Jeffrey Eldred
    15. November 2012 at 08:36

    Obama won the Amish (and Amish-influenced) vote
    Amish (and Mennonites and groups descended from Amish or Mennonite) have strong pacifists stances and a strong focus on social justice. Makes perfect sense with picking Obama over Romney.

  75. Gravatar of SQM SQM
    15. November 2012 at 10:32

    I am a farmer who resides in the very center of your mystery area and have farmed here all my life. I think I can guarantee that the odd color here is not due to a “farm” vote. For one thing, there are very few farmers left here. In the 40+ years I have been in business, more than 95% of my contemporaries have been forced off the land. That doesn’t leave very many. And very few of them are liberals. At least ninety percent of the “locals”, and even more than that of the farmers are very thrifty conservative people. They had to be, or they would be gone too.

    Directly or indirectly.

    Most of those left survive by renting cropland from rich absentee flatlanders, or like me, have been here long to have bought their property before speculation drove prices far above what their income generating potential will ever be. But we still get taxed at the speculator price.

    As someone else here mentioned, the majority of the rural population is now some sort or another of wealthy import. Lots of retirees on huge government or union pensions. Quite a bit of real estate is owned by wealthy urbanites, who only come out here infrequently to deer hunt and shoot off fireworks. A couple of counties are heavily settled by what’s known locally as “trust funders”. These are the offspring of wealthy families in many distant places who are literally paid by their parents to stay out of sight here and not embarrass them. It’s generally quite a lucrative lifestyle. They are usually heavy into dope and light into gardening. Having a lot of free time, most of the “occupy, and Madistan protesters were drawn from their ranks.

    None of these types are likely to ever vote conservative.

    But the real tipping point, and one that everyone has here seems to have overlooked is the huge welfare population. (In the Wisconsin part at least) The area is peppered with small towns with low costs of living and they all have huge populations of these people. Rent is cheap, and many homes are still heated almost for free with locally grown firewood. They all receive free transportation to the polls and vote in lockstep to protect their “benefits”.

    I think that students from the many small colleges mentioned might contribute a bit, especially since voter ID was defeated allowing them to continue “bulking” their vote. But my guess is that wealthy transplants, and welfare transplants are producing the majority of the blue ink.

  76. Gravatar of billy h. billy h.
    16. November 2012 at 14:48

    who won the most districts ?? District by District regardless of size or population

    not by farmland ,urban , mountains , deserts or any other calculations..

    JUST >>>WHO WON THE MOST DISTRICTS not states who compile the districts to one winner


  77. Gravatar of SLBronkowitz SLBronkowitz
    17. November 2012 at 06:15

    While no longer living in the area, I grew up in Richland County. At that time it was a very conservative area. Republicans frequently won with strong majorities. There was only one Democratic member in the State Assembly that I can recall. She was primarily elected due to her extreme anti-abortion views.

    In religious terms, the county seat of Richland Center has a single Catholic Church, one ELCA Church, one Missouri Synod Church, two Methodist Churches and a Presbyterian church. Also into the mix are a surprising large number of “fundamentalist” churches. What is lacking ion this mix is any Wisconsin Synod Lutheran churches. That in my experience is a bell weather marker for Republican votes.

    Interestingly it was impossible to by alcohol in Richland Center until the late 1980’s

    In economic terms is it a poor area. If you are lucky to have a family farm to inherit your a set. If not, you can work in many of the smaller factories or in agribusiness. The really well paying jobs are government related, teachers, prison, university or public service.

    Educationally the area has some very good school systems also. Will not the most economically advantaged of people, they are by no means uninformed.

    It should also be noted that many of the right leaning AM broadcasts from the Milwaukee area do not make it into the valleys.

  78. Gravatar of Links « Gucci Little Piggy Links « Gucci Little Piggy
    21. November 2012 at 09:45

    […] like Minnesota or something.  The link, from Scott Sumner (via Salam) might fit into Steve Sailer’s Big 10 […]

  79. Gravatar of Jerry-NYC ex Grant County, WI Jerry-NYC ex Grant County, WI
    29. November 2012 at 07:16

    This is the answer.

    Since the Civil War, this area has been largely Republican. In Grant County, WI in the heart of this Blue Zone, in the Fifties and Sixties and even since that War, the Democratic Party has been very much in the minority.

    In particular, at the time of the Civil War, WI was the westermost state in the Northern defense of the Union… and IL and newly settling Iowa and Minnesota were staunch defenders as well. This has set the tone of Republicanism in these rural areas for over a century and a half.

    This population cohort, voted for Obama because of its Republican heritage. This is the land of the Lincoln Republican…and Obama was correctly seen, notwithstanding the innate conservatism of this population and its lack of enthusiasm for gay marriage and other “forward” social issues, to be a Defender of the Republic against entrenched “Modern Republican” obstructionists. This population identifies with the Unionist tradition and was offended by the (non-expansionist) anti-immigration, pro-war and in particular the anti-Federalist machinations of the Wrong Wing of the Republican Party.

    The lessons of the Civil War are alive for this group, not in a triumphaslist sense but in the sense that it was a good war that once won, need not be re-fought.

    Just a side note on Obama-care, medical and hospital services are under great pressure in rural areas. In this area there is a Northern European sense of cooperative management of resources (it is where HMOs had early popularity). Obama-care was seen as an attempt to make something better than the already failing alternative: the status quo. Not perfect but not the end of the world.

    The anti-war movement is fairly strong here as citizens from these areas disproportionately contribute and participate in the Armed Services. The burdens of the wars are felt in these communities but here the local communities do not have the benefits that come with the presence of large military camps and facilities. The result is less group-think on this issue and more willingness to count the cost. Obama’s efforts in this are understood and appreciated.

    It is true that the hilly areas aren’t that great for farming and that the New Deal saved many from starvation. Those stories are well known. Lincoln would probably have been a New Dealer at that point.

    Also, Romney’s stance as a business leader and a person of great wealth did not specially validate him in the eyes of these voters. There are very few individuals approaching that kind of wealth in this area and the the unfettered financialism that was the basis of his wealth and that he promoted in his claim for primacy over Obama, just didn’t make sense to this more conservative population.

  80. Gravatar of Lyle Lyle
    12. January 2013 at 11:02

    The answer is simple – U.A.W.
    Manufacturing – not farming – is the #1 business in Iowa. John Deere is the largest manufacturer. Even in Iowa, folks will drive 2-3 counties to work a good factory job with good benefits.

    Look t this map of US locations of JD facilities – where are they concentrated?


  81. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    24. March 2013 at 14:25

    The answer lies with Mitt Romney,the more he talked, the more he put his foot in his mouth plain and simple.Even the Republican Party did not want to nominate this guy,they had no other choice.

  82. Gravatar of Areas that are rural and socially liberal? – City-Data Forum Areas that are rural and socially liberal? - City-Data Forum
    6. May 2013 at 12:13

    […] […]

  83. Gravatar of Discovering the Driftless » UNDERDOG of PERFECTION [ a blog on technology, music and geek culture from room34 ] Discovering the Driftless » UNDERDOG of PERFECTION [ a blog on technology, music and geek culture from room34 ]
    5. July 2013 at 06:53

    […] As another final curiosity, and harkening back to a blog post I wrote after the 2008 election — discussing the fact that the curious distribution of votes for President Obama in the Deep South in that year’s election closely followed the contours of the Atlantic coastline from the Cretaceous Period, 85 million years ago — we have this blog post by Scott Sumner. […]

  84. Gravatar of Mike Mike
    19. July 2013 at 20:36

    I grew up in this area and can tell you exactly why that happened. This area USED TO BE agriculture but no longer. Most people that make what the area considers as good money have Government, or Union jobs. Or even vote democrat because they have family or know someone that has one of these jobs. I know this because I have had to listen to ALOT of family and friends spew their OBAMA BS and how he’s the great savior and all the Liberal cookiness. I will admit it is bizarre along with some of the folks but most mean well. Hope this helps

  85. Gravatar of David David
    21. December 2013 at 19:37

    The truth is overlooked in all but a few of these posts. The people living in the Wisconsin Driftless are mostly transplants- hippies from Madison and Chicago who move there. Welfare recipients are rampant here, and they vote to keep the checks coming. It isn’t heritage, or ideology- it’s pure laziness.

  86. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    25. February 2014 at 00:35

    David, you’re a moron. None of us are transplants of hippies. Most of us have generational roots here. My geneological connection to the area began in the late 1800’s exactly 3 miles from my current property. As does a majority of my friends and neighbors. Look at the progression of plat maps. Most land-owning names have their ancestors still here.

    I would lean to believe it has more to do with progressionism. As populations increase from a few hundred years ago, the available resources had to keep up with new concepts and ideas to support the population. All of my 2nd generational ancestors were farmers. That’s what our first settlements were. Cities grew form production of lumber, milling (available due to the flowing streams and rivers), and mining where selectively available. Those resources were not sustainable to maintain a growing population of locals. Lumber was not replenished, what were once large rivers and streams are shrinking by the decade. Production was one way to sustain a population. Currently the better part of our population are in production. Producing dairy products, metals, and parts/components. Regarding the higher than average rural welfare recipients- that is likely a result of the overpopulation to under-advancement concept. Regarding voting for those welfare benefits, I believe that would be a more state-wide benefit, and we currently have a republican governor. And the bastard even survived a recall!

    And whoever assumed our ancestral migration occurred from Canada is largely wrong, as well. We are majority of German/English/Norwegian descent.

  87. Gravatar of Aaron Aaron
    9. October 2014 at 05:19

    I know this is an old post, but I’m studying the driftless area for diferent reasons (business and agricultural,) and stumbled upon this blog.

    I’m from Dunn County, the rectangle sticking out at the top of the driftless area in Wisconsin. In Dunn County, like most of the driftless area, there’s a good mix of Democrat and Republican, but it comes down to this-

    Non-native folks- People in the Midwest that enjoy the outdoors and unique topography move to this area.

    Education- Most people that enjoy this unique setting, at least in the Midwest, and value natural resources, are educated- and educated tend to be democratic.

    Organic Farming & Coffeeshops – Both have had good success in this area, were established by a much more liberal minded population, and in turn, attracted more people of the same mind. Organic food and Coffee shops are to liberals what Wal-Mart and McDonalds are to Republicans- they don’t want to live without them.

  88. Gravatar of kman kman
    13. February 2015 at 12:20

    Poorer risk area = more welfare. Welfare correlates to voting democrat.

  89. Gravatar of E C E C
    19. September 2015 at 20:33

    Would like to dispel a couple myths in the comments section.

    1) Contrary to what some mentioned above, the rural parts of the Driftless Area are NOT highly educated with respect to the country. In general, the college degree rate is more than 10 percentage points below national average. One of the bluest counties in Northeast Iowa, Howard County, has a bachelor’s degree rate of only 11.6% among all residents 25 and older, one of the lowest in the country and roughly equal to the rate in poor Appalachian counties.

    2) The region is not as poor as Appalachia, not does it have any appreciable number of wealthy transplants or trust-fund types. Its median income lies solidly in the middle-class range (about $40,000 to $50,000), and the vast majority of the rural population has long roots there as family farmers. Its economy is dominated by the standard small-business-and-family-farm pattern of rural areas. This economic composition and the median income (which is high when adjusted for cost-of-living, just like most rural areas) make it all the more baffling as to why the region is so Democratic.

  90. Gravatar of Reg Reg
    21. February 2016 at 18:58

    An important factor not brought up here is demographic insulation. This is Vermont-on-the-Mississippi. It’s not surprising that it votes like Vermont. Remember that in 2008 primaries and caucuses, white Democrats who had little if any contact with minorities went overwhelmingly for Obama, while those with daily contact went equally strongly for Hillary Clinton. And there’s the related phenomenon of the occasional GOP candidate who talks down-to-earth and draws large crowds of blue-collar Democrats: Goldwater, Reagan, Buchanan, Trump. This falls flat in areas like the Driftless. Crime? “What’s that?” Immigration? “The two in our village are just fine, thank you!” The sense of Democrat betrayal felt strongly elsewhere is absent.

    Also, remember it isn’t 100-0 vs 0-100, but more like 60-40 to 40-60. As in Vermont, there are enough idealistic flatlanders to tip the scale. It’s a different kind of white flight.

  91. Gravatar of Dubuquer Dubuquer
    12. November 2016 at 18:46

    I live in what is prossibly the heart of this area, Dubuque, Iowa.

    A lot of it has to do with transportation. Dubuque was one of the first European settlements west of the Mississippi. It’s a city of 60,000 that sits right at the spot on the Iowa border where Illinois and Wisconsin meet. So it gets a lot of through traffic. Chicago is a short trip away, as are Milwaukee and Madison. Dubuque acts as a hub for travel to and from these places. If you’re coming to Chicago from the west, or leaving Chicago going to any western state, you probably pass through Dubuque.

    A lot of the area, and the smaller cities, is influence by this directly, or indirectly through proximity to larger cities. Going to Dubuque to shop or go out is a standard day trip for a lot of rural people in the surrounding areas.

    All of this has predisposed the area to a more liberal belief system than the rest of the state. We interact with the rest of the country a lot more. Dubuque is definitely mostly white, but changing fast and diverse enough that you can run into any ethnic group.

  92. Gravatar of M.S. Leavelle M.S. Leavelle
    19. February 2017 at 14:53

    looks like cornflour’s comment about the Driftless Area voting for Obama because it’s been invaded by hippies/hipsters has been validated. I present to you, this article, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/viroq-landia-5-reasons-we-love-viroqua-wi “Viroq-Landia”, in which special snowflake college girl (“writer and actress looking to change the world”)from Viroqua, Wisconsin, right in the center of the Driftless Area, rhapsodizes her hometown because it’s “heavily influenced by many of the same things [as] Portland, Boulder or Madison”, three of the most obvious far-left hipster meccas in the U.S. The author says it’s “less obnoxious than Portland” but after reading her article and glancing at her twitter feed, I kind of doubt that.

  93. Gravatar of Tyler Tyler
    1. July 2018 at 08:26

    1) Old post. I know. So what.
    2) It wasn’t just 2012. It was basically every modern election. Remember 1984, when MN was the only state to not vote for Reagan? Dubuque County was one of the few rural counties in America to never vote for Reagan.
    3) It’s a small world out here. The hills aren’t really farmable, and the valleys are too small to profit from, unless you have a specialty crop. So organic farming is bigger here than in even California, and for longer, because it makes economic sense.
    4) Stop talking about welfare recipients, it just displays your own ignorance. Research, the U.S. has never had a true welfare program by definition.
    5) Transplants? Seriously? True, lots of us have moved to the Driftless from Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, California, Colorado, wherever. Moved BACK, actually, after we left the Driftless years ago in our early 20s. I currently live about 15 miles from the population-26-farming-community where three of my grandparents were born. The Driftless has more of a boomerang trend than any other locale in America. Wonder why…
    6) In 1848, when it first joined the union, Iowa was the first state to legally allow interracial marriage. The University of Iowa was the first state university in the country to allow men and women to study the same topics in the same rooms at the same time. No one even batted an eye here when Iowa legalized same-sex marriage before “liberal” states like NY and Cali could get it done.
    7) My grandmother just passed away at 97 last week. In 2008, I remember visiting her and she brought up the upcoming election. I was afraid I was about to hear some racist shit spew from the mouth of someone I loved, because I had lost touch with what we have in the Driftless, and she lived her entire life in all-white farming communities. But my grandma laid it plain for me.
    “This guy Obama, who won the (Iowa) caucus, is the one with the right ideas. I just hope the rest of the country is ready to vote for a black man.”

  94. Gravatar of Jay Jay
    3. August 2018 at 13:46

    I like the love folks have for the Driftless Area. When we answer why it went to Obama in 2012, we should answer why many of its counties flipped Republican in 2016. I cite a Federal Election Commission/National Public Radio map in this 8/1/18 post in FiveThirtyEight.com: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/who-are-the-most-important-swing-voters-in-this-years-midterms/

    The Driftless Area leaped out upon a quick glance at the twin maps about 2/3 of the way down, with flipped counties in red. I’m not from the Driftless, so I can’t say why. Since Scott’s article mentioned Nate Silver, I just sent Nate (and one of his colleagues) a link to the article. Maybe they’ll absorb your collective wisdom.

  95. Gravatar of Bleeding Heartland Bleeding Heartland
    14. April 2020 at 14:12

    […] swing was so pronounced in the far northeast part of the state. Perhaps a better question is why so much of the “driftless area” (which includes northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin, and southeast Minnesota) favored Obama in 2012 […]

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