Review of “Our Patchwork Nation”

Today I read Our Patchwork Nation: The Suprising Truth about the “Real” America by journalist Dante Chinni and political scientist James Gimpel. The objective of the book is to lay out an alternative to the traditional red/blue geographic divide in the United States. The authors argue instead that American counties can be more accurately divided into twelve different community types like “Monied Burbs”, “Tractor Country”, “Boom Towns”, “Evangelical Epicenters”, etc.

The first half of the book describes each of the 12 community types in terms of their economic, political, demographic, and cultural characteristics. The second half of the book describes some interesting political, economic, and cultural patterns that emerge across the various community types.

To me, the most useful part of this book is the argument for the way that community types should be grouped. I agree with the authors that the red/blue dichotomy can be overly simplistic at times. The 12-type rubric that they provide is an interesting and novel way to think about some systematic differences in American community types.

I will admit, though, that I found very little surprising or even very “ground-breaking” in this book. The second half describes some interesting systematic differences between various community types but reveals little that would contradict what one’s intuitive guess might predict. (For example, “tractor country” communities have the highest rate of gun shops per capita while “campus and career” communities have the highest rate of bookstores per capita. No big surprise there.)

I was especially disappointed that the book offered little by way of analysis of how these different community types might be useful in predicting interesting political and social outcomes beyond what we already know about the world. In other words, there’s nothing in the book demonstrating that knowing these community types gives us any “added value” for explaining political outcomes independent of standard individual-level sociopolitical factors.  

That being said, the patterns discussed in the book are useful to in that they provide further evidence of the diversity of the American culture and our increasing cultural/political self-segregation.

The authors have created a website which has some nifty tools, which data/map geeks might find especially fun to play with: http://www.patchworknation.org/

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