March 16, 2020 | By Richard C. Longworth

Midwestern Voters Aren't Ready for Revolution

Without anyone much noticing, the old Midwest has gone away  and a new Midwest is taking its place. This is changing the way we live and the way we vote. The depth of this change is on display in the Democratic primaries, including the Illinois primary March 17, and may determine the outcome of the presidential election in November.

The old Midwest was the nation’s foundry and breadbasket, the throbbing citadels of industrial might and a thriving agricultural economy. In time, this gave way to the Rust Bowl, a battered landscape of hollowed factory cities and impoverished farm towns. 

Now that’s changing. Where once there was one Midwest, rising and falling with the industrial era, there are now two Midwests, marching to different economic drummers. All this is chronicled in “A Vital Midwest,” a new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 

The ruined industrial landscape and dying rural areas remain, of course, and may never recover. But in their wake has risen a new Midwest that looks nothing like the silos and smokestacks of before.   

This new Midwest is based on post-industrial industries – business services, health and medical, clean energy, IT, bioscience. Its new capitals are not the industrial behemoths such as Cleveland and Detroit and Youngstown, but places like Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor and Des Moines. Many are state capitals or university towns or both. Few have a legacy of heavy industry to overcome. Most important, they are not the places that globalization left behind, but are plugged into the global economy and are thriving in it.

In short, the Midwest is caught in the painful shift from one economy to another, and its divided fortunes show this. It is a split between winners and losers, between well-educated city dwellers and the left behind, angry denizens of the old economy. 

All this has big impacts that are economic and social – and political. 

Four years ago, anger ruled Midwestern voting. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump spoke to this resentment. Sanders nearly derailed Hillary Clinton’s nomination by promising a new deal for Midwestern voters, especially in Michigan. Trump won the presidency on the strength of Midwestern fury, especially in states such as Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin, and a feeling that nobody in power was listening to them. 

Both were revolutionaries preaching a reordering of society. 

So far, this year’s primaries have taught us that Midwesterners aren’t ready for revolution. A Michigan that provided Sanders with his finest hour in 2016 turned on him this year and gave its votes to Joe Biden, a much more centrist candidate. 

There are many reasons for Biden’s success so far. As a Pennsylvania native, he has Rust Belt roots and can speak to its pain. But he also is an establishment figure able to plug into the needs of the new Midwest and the educated, well-paid people who live there, both in its burgeoning cities and its suburbs. 

That ability will be tested in the March 17 primaries, especially in Illinois and Ohio. Both have their thriving metropolises, such as Chicago and Columbus, and both have their Rush Belt refugees such as Dayton and Galesburg and Danville. 

Right now, Biden has the momentum. The betting is that there are more votes in the new Midwest than the old one. If so, it will probably doom the Sanders movement. 

Trump and the Republicans need to pay attention. Trump and Sanders speak to the same constituency and, four years ago, this constituency responded. But if Biden sweeps Illinois and Ohio, just as he swept Michigan, it may be a signal that the Midwest that elected Trump in 2016 may be ready to turn on him in 2020. 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

Archive

Wait Just a Minute: Lesley Lokko

In our this episode, architect and novelist Lesley Lokko explains urbanism, the importance of culture in cities, and how architecture contributes to a city's culture.


| By Madeleine Nicholson

Sustainable Food Systems: A View from the Midwest

Today, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, meaning nearly 8 billion people in need of daily nutritional sustenance. This presents new challenges that threaten our fragile global food system.



| By Brian Hanson, Lynda Obst, Orville Schell

Deep Dish: China's Blockbuster Influence in Hollywood

The 91st Academy Awards take place on Sunday in Los Angeles, but international markets, led by China, have eclipsed the domestic market in importance for the US movie industry, rewriting the rules about what kinds of films get made.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

Deep Divisions Across the Atlantic

Returning from the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany, Council President Ivo Daalder concludes that both sides of the transatlantic relationship have given up even pretending that the relationship is strong.



Wait Just a Minute: John Mearsheimer

In this episode, John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago professor and co-director of the university’s Program on International Security Policy, explains what he thinks is wrong with the liberal hegemonic worldview, why he believes realism serves as a better lens, and whom he’d most like to debate on the subject.


| By Brian Hanson, Sophie Pedder, Benjamin Haddad

Deep Dish: France’s Yellow Vest Protests Explained

Protesters in high-visibility vests have taken to the streets in France for weeks. Sophie Pedder of The Economist and Benjamin Haddad of the Atlantic Council explain what the demonstrations mean for France and Europe.





In Memory of Mrs. Margaret S. Hart

Mrs. Margaret S. Hart passed away on Sunday, January 27, 2019. She was an important donor of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for over 50+ years and a wonderful partner in building a program series focused on Latin America.



Wait Just a Minute: US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi

In this episode, US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Council Emerging Leader Program alum,  answers questions on the top global challenges facing the United States and what issues will be the most important during the 2020 presidential race.