The U.S. 2020 Census is slated to begin counting people next month. This monumental event will reshape the congressional landscape of our country and provide a new glimpse of the demographic changes happening in America.
Most importantly, it raises the ever-pressing question: Which state is most Midwestern?
You see, the U.S. Census Bureau defines the following 12 states as members of the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. But survey data from FiveThirtyEight shows that these designations are controversial.For instance, approximately 10% of respondents named Wyoming as Midwestern, and other baffling entries include West Virginia and Colorado.
Clearly, no one knows what the Midwest is.
As a lifelong Midwesterner, I have taken the question into my own hands, compiling an authoritative, completely correct ranking of the U.S. Census' "Midwestern" states by how Midwestern they really are:
12. South Dakota
South Dakota is a member of the U.S. region known as the Great Plains. The Great Plains are known for their plains. They lend themselves well to the growing of wheat, whereas the Midwest is known for corn and soy.
11. North Dakota
See South Dakota. North Dakota is slightly colder, and cold is a big part of the Midwestern identity. This nudges North Dakota ahead.
Cotton is growing in popularity as a crop, an affront to the agricultural tradition of the Midwest. As if that’s not bad enough, the University of Missouri is a member of the Southeastern Conference alongside Alabama and Louisiana. Despite these clear southern markers, the Rust Belt nature of Saint Louis boosts the state out of the cellar.
Nebraska suffers from many of the same issues as South Dakota, yet has a strong point in its favor: agriculture. When it comes to the Midwestern staples of corn and soybeans, Nebraska was 3rd and 5th in 2018, respectively. Moreover, the University of Nebraska recently joined the Big Ten, the most Midwestern of college athletic conferences. These facts boost Nebraska above the clear pretenders.
Minnesota also shows some agricultural strength. But it falls below other states due to historical reasons. The majority of the Midwest is land from the historical Northwest Territory. Minnesota was added at a later date, undermining its claims to Midwestern glory. Moreover, having the 17th most traveled airport in the country undermines the state's ability to called “flyover country.”
Michigan is an excellent embodiment of the Rust Belt. Detroit is the clearest example of the deindustrialization that defines the region. But a relative lack of agricultural strength robs Michigan of its potential.
Here we arrive at our first truly well-balanced competitor. Solid corn and soy production, industrial legacy along the Great Lakes and historical claims to the region. But the influence of nearby eastern states drags it down, as staples such as the hoagie seep in.
Some say that Chicago is the quintessential Midwestern city. I disagree. Chicago is far too cool and hip. The Midwest is known for ranch and cheese curds, not Michelin starred restaurants.
Like many other states in the upper echelon, Wisconsin has both agricultural and Rust Belt roots. What sets them apart? Cheese. Wisconsin produces about a quarter of the nation’s cheese and consumes the product in kind.
Iowa has nearly everything you could want. It leads the country in corn production. The eastern portion of the state has strong Rust Belt claims. The state is quintessential flyover country – Iowa's caucuses notwithstanding, when was the last time you thought of the state? Iowa loses out on the top spot due to one small mistake: Iowa State resides in the Big 12.
Did you really think this was going to be anything other than the top choice? C’mon, go read the name of this newspaper again. Indiana has everything: a strong agricultural base in corn and soy, Rust Belt cities in the Northern portion of the state, a more unassuming flagship city, two Big Ten universities and even a dorky nickname (Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoosiers!) all embody the spirit of the Midwest.