Quilted North America

It’s easy to divide North America into red and blue, or Jesusland and the United States of Canada as one popular map described it in 2004. It’s also easy to cast the New Continent as a melting pot or as one big purple state of mixed identities. But both of those descriptions are false.

The truth is that North America is a quilt of different political backgrounds and heritages. Some of these are strong and storied. Others are emerging or evaporating.

The Northeastern part of the Untied States is blue country, but libertarian farmers in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont have little in common with the bluebloods of Newport, R.I., who have little in common with Puerto Ricans in the Bronx.

Likewise, hog farmers in North Carolina share little with Mormons in Utah except for the fact that most of them both vote Republican.

Many of these American groups – or “tribes” as Doug Sosnik, Ron Fournier and Matthew Dowd call them – are tight knit in of themselves, so it’s inaccurate to call our land a melting pot. But it also wouldn’t make sense to throw them into a red or blue vat.

Many demographers have attempted to identify all of the different groups or cast their boundaries. This is an impossible task and is bound for failure for two reasons. First, at some point you get into the business of microtargeting; and second, someone will always disagree with you.

The latest pollster/demographer to take a stab is Mark Penn, whose book “Microtrends” has been sitting on my desk waiting for me for a couple of months.

But a different book, Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” has already survived the test of time. First published in 1981, it outlined a model for the nine socioeconomic regions of the continent.

The map speaks for itself, but I’ll just make a couple of comments about its strengths and weakness and also offer a side note.

  • Strengths – Quebec and Dixie are indeed very unique regions. Secession is part of their DNA’s.
  • Weaknesses – “The Foundry” is very clumsy.
  • Side Note – Dixie correlates with SEC Country and the Breadbasket with the Big 12, while the Foundary is roughly Big Ten territory (if it were shifted a bit west).

Garreau’s “Nine Nations”:

Nine Nations

I asked Joel Kotkin, the master demographer, what he thought of Garreau’s model and he emailed this response: “Garreau got the MexAmerica vs. Ecotopia right on the money. The divides are racial, cultural, climactic. Quebec is a no-brainer.”

Agreed. I also asked Kotkin what he thought about another map, one that the fine people at Strange Maps published last week. It was created by Matthew White and outlined what the continent would look like if it was “Balkanized.”

White outlines areas that:

“1. administered themselves as autonomous nations at some point in American history, or
2. shed blood to achieve or maintain their independence, or at least
3. threatened to.”

White’s “Balkanized North America”:

Balkanized North America

White has historical references for each of these would-be states on his Web site.

Kotkin noted that the map is very flawed, which I agree with. He also pointed out that the United States had “total control” of the West Coast and High Plains.

It’s also important to note that many of these territories never had the teeth to secede, such as Louisiana, Vermont or Florida. But that’s nitpicking. The strengths of this map are that many of these regions continue to carry a strong self-identity today, including Dixie, Texas (which was actually a C.S.A. state), Deseret and Vermont.

Editor’s note: I omitted the “Ten Regions of American Politics” because it’s just a model of the United States and not the continent.



One response to “Quilted North America

  1. Amazing how close the Balkanized states are to Garreau’s map. Some have internal divisions. Garreau recognizes south Florida and southern California, but not the Catholic Cajun part of Louisiana as discinct from the Protesdtant Anglo part. The more populated southern part of Idaho would belong to Deseret. Northern New England diverges somewhat from southern New England but probably is not big enough to survive on its own. What held the US together from the beginning was fear of foreign domination. What brought Canada together was fear of US domination. Those fears are still there. Anglos in the southwest fear Mexican domination. Anglo Canadians still fear US domination. Anglos in Florida fear donination by island nations to the south and east. I often consider my native New England to be closer politically to Canada, but economics – eastern Canada’s relative poverty, pulls the other way.

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