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Election time reveals three Americas

While the 2000 presidential election split the country in two, this year’s congressional elections are taking place in three very different Americas, according to U-M demographer William H. Frey.

In the fall 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, Frey analyzes 2000 U.S. Census data to identify the emergence of three increasingly distinct regions, each with its own cultural and demographic personality. “This development flies in the face of the conventional view that we are a ‘single melting pot’ nation,” says Frey, a research scientist at the Population Studies Center, part of the Institute for Social Research.

The three regions Frey identifies are:

The New Sunbelt: “America’s suburbs,” this region consists of 13 fast-growing states mainly in the Southeast and West that contain about a fifth of the nation’s total population. These states accounted for 79 percent of the total U.S. white population growth during the 1990s. Both white and Black families are trading life in pricey, congested urban areas for homes in Georgia, Colorado, Nevada and other New Sunbelt states.

The Melting Pot: These nine states, including California, Florida, New York and Illinois, attract mostf the nation's immigrant population. Home to 74 percent of the nation's combined Hispanic and Asian populations, these states as a group have lost white population in the 1990s while white, middle-class families left for the New Sunbelt states. "The suburbs in the Melting Pot region are becoming almost as multi-ethnic as the cities," Frey says.

The Heartland: These 28 states plus the District of Columbia grew much more slowly during the 1990s than either of the other two regions and are the least racially diverse. The region also has the largest share of the nation's older and blue collar population, which magnifies its national visibility when issues are of particular interest to an older, whiter, more conservative population.

"These three regions reflect the older local distinctions of urban, suburban and rural," Frey says. "The difference is that today, both residents and jobs are much more mobile, and for middle-class Americans, lifestyle as well as economics are important in selecting a destination.

"What's missing in this new scenario is the chance that used to exist for daily, face-to-face interactions among people from these different social worlds. An important national challenge for political parties and many other groups will be to find ways to bridge these new regional divisions among communities with different demographics, lifestyles and values, but probably similar aspirations."


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