The Indecisive Midwest

Jon Chait watches the polls sway back and forth around the Great Lakes:

[I]t’s pretty interesting that Republican governor John Kasich is already incredibly unpopular in Ohio, running 15 percentage points behind Ted Strickland, who he narrowly beat last November. Meanwhile, several Wisconsin state Senators look to be getting pulled down in the Scott Walker undertow. The big picture is that the Republican Party was deeply discredited by the end of the Bush administration. Then you had Democrats running the government everywhere at the moment of the worst economic crisis in 70 years, so they managed to win power in a bunch of states. But this fact seems only to be reminding people why they hated Republicans in the first place.

There’s no question that this is right. Nor is there any question that some measure of “overreach,” first by congressional Democrats and then by state-level Republicans, is driving this.

But it does seem to me that the political see-saw is swinging especially violently in this region, even as this broad economic story applies everywhere. I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t reflect the fast that the Midwest seems to be in a state of pretty severe relative decline vis-à-vis the nation as a whole. Broadly speaking, we’re seeing very rapid population growth in key sunbelt areas. Then in Boston-Washington corridor and Pacific Northwest we’ve seen housing become very expensive, which has tamped down population growth but indicates that demand is present. But states like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have neither a fast-growing metro area like Houston nor a “nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded” city like San Francisco. You could easily imagine this kind of situation leading to an unusual degree of voter fickleness and persistent dissatisfaction with all options.