Barry McNamara  |   Published July 14, 2021

Students’ Research Cited in Politico

Article focused on research about how legacy communities affected 2016 and ’20 presidential elections.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Findings about the 2016 and ’20 U.S. presidential elections by students in a Monmouth College political science class were recently featured in an article that appeared in the national political media outlet Politico.

LEGACY COMMUNITY: Moline, which is about 45 miles north of Monmouth, was one of 14 Illinois citie... LEGACY COMMUNITY: Moline, which is about 45 miles north of Monmouth, was one of 14 Illinois cities whose voters were studied by Robin Johnson's class this spring.Research by students in political science lecturer Robin Johnson’s Citizenship course, “Politics and Government in the Midwest,” found that despite Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win, a handful of traditionally Democratic communities in the Rust Belt and Midwest continue to trend Republican.

The students’ research of 78 Midwest communities that had been traditional Democratic strongholds – known as legacy communities – was included in a recent article written by Johnson and co-author John Austin of the Brookings Institution that appeared on Politico, “Midwest Legacy Communities Are Tail Wagging Political Dog.”

“I’ve structured my ‘Citizenship’ projects to have real-world applications for students, and having their work published in a major media outlet is a reflection of their critical thinking and scholastic abilities.” Robin Johnson


“It’s very gratifying to see students excel in civic engagement projects with off-campus partners like John Austin,” said Johnson. “I’ve structured my ‘Citizenship’ projects to have real-world applications for students, and having their work published in a major media outlet is a reflection of their critical thinking and scholastic abilities.”

It is largely accepted that Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential bid was fueled by narrow victories of less than 1% in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump’s victory, write Johnson and Austin, was clinched by winning numerous economically struggling legacy communities, “which once were Democratic, blue-collar strongholds, allowing him to eke out narrow victories and win in the electoral college.”

Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election came, in part, from winning back Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – but not because Biden won back those traditionally Democratic communities that had voted for Trump in 2016. According to the article’s authors, “in still-declining communities, Trumpism not only lives on but had stronger appeal in 2020 than 2016.”

With the 2022 midterm Congressional elections approaching, Johnson and Austin write that legacy communities are poised to play a pivotal role in the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the article, they also observe that there was “a consistent trend among the largely white working-class voters – away from Democrats and toward Republicans. A trend that was accelerated dramatically by Trump and his naked ethno-nationalist brand of populism.”

Essentially, the legacy communities, including 14 in Illinois, “have outsized political clout,” write Johnson and Austin. Among those Illinois communities are Moline, Pekin, Peoria and Quincy. Research by Johnson, Austin and the Monmouth students show that since 2000, Illinois’ 14 manufacturing-heavy downstate legacy communities have marched consistently to the right, with once-Democratic Madison, Macon and Vermilion counties today solidly in the Republican column, helping to offset “the growing outsized votes coming from Democratic Chicagoland.”

In addition to his teaching duties at Monmouth, Johnson hosts the radio show Heartland Politics on WVIK-FM public radio in the Quad Cities. Austin directs the Michigan Economic Center and is a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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