This is the inaugural “Politics Counts” column by Dante Chinni, who will be a regular contributor to WSJ.com and WashWire.com through the 2012 cycle. He is co-author of “Our Patchwork Nation,” newly out in paperback from Penguin, and will be looking inside the political and socioeconomic data that help drive the campaign.
By Dante Chinni
With Election Day a mere 13 months away, President Barack Obama's team sees a complicated electoral terrain. Unemployment stands at over 9%. Consumer confidence is in the tank. And Washington seems to be in a state of near paralysis.
In short, there have been better times to be an incumbent president seeking re-election.
But while there is a tendency to talk about Mr. Obama’s chances in the aggregate – will he get re-elected or won’t he – the challenges he faces are starkly different across the U.S. And those challenges extend beyond the simple demographic groups that usually dominate political coverage, the soccer moms and Nascar dads that pollsters identify and we discuss every four years.
For the Obama team, a key will be finding a way to energize his base voters in big cities and college towns without alienating voters in the suburbs who may hold the real key to the race.
Thinking about types of communities like those, rather than people, is a better way to look at the coming 2012 election. Even in 21st century America, communities still matter. Their shared experiences – economic, political and cultural – create different kinds of shared realities. And they see the problems the country faces in very different ways. Some see a jobs crisis. Some see an environmental crisis. Some see a moral crisis.
I have spent the last three years tracking those differences with my journalism project Patchwork Nation. With the help of statisticians and academics I have used demographic data to break the nation’s 3,100-plus counties into 12 types of place – ranging from big city Industrial Metropolis counties to small town Service Worker Centers.
The map below shows the 12 county types and where they are based around the U.S.
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