Jan. 31, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

More Than Blue and Red in America’s National Quilt

Midterm elections are just around the corner, but dont get distracted by big maps of blue states and red states. The United States of America is a lot more complex than that.

Thats the premise of Our Patchwork Nation, a new book that doubles as a sociological experiment, by journalist Dante Chinni and James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political science professor.

The title gives readers a good idea of what theyre in for: The authors suggest that this country cannot be easily defined by splitting people up into neat categories such as Republican and Democrat or rich and poor. Instead, communities all over the country share certain traits income level, racial makeup, religious character or dozens of other characteristics and the combination of those traits gives a place, and its people, its identity.

Chinni and Gimpel have created 12 different identities, which they call community types, and fit every county in the United States into one of those categories based on a fairly complex statistical calculation using sociocultural characteristics. The community types include Monied Burbs, Military Bastions, Service Worker Centers and Campus and Careers, among others.

Readers could probably come up with a place theyve lived or visited that qualify as each of those, and thats part of the point; the other part is recognizing that there are other places all over the country maybe in a neighboring county, or maybe 1,500 miles away that are similar.

The book provides a look into one city that exemplifies each of those 12 community types. For example, Philadelphia serves as the authors Industrial Metropolis, and El Mirage, Ariz., fits the bill as an Immigration Nation locale.

The 12 places Chinni and Gimpel have chosen certainly have political identities. Some vote Democratic, some vote Republican, and the rest are up for grabs every two years. But theres a lot more to those communities than just party affiliation, and this book which, lets not forget, was written by two politically minded individuals is refreshingly free of partisan talk.

Chinni said in an interview that the book started out as an election-season project with the Christian Science Monitor, and its no coincidence that the 12 communities described in the book are mostly in competitive electoral states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Still, Chinni was struck by the nuances of each place he visited, and the connections he made in those towns are evident in the book.

When you travel and experience a town firsthand, Chinni said, youre overwhelmed by the vastness and the diversity of the country. ... You dont get that in Washington. And its not just a being inside the Beltway thing. Even when you get outside the Beltway, a lot of the time what youre doing is traveling between metropolitan areas. You get to the airport here and you say, Oh, theres the Starbucks, the Pottery Barn, the malls with stores X, Y and Z in it. And when you get out, you see theres a lot more out there.

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