Third Way on the Road: District Visits
Published June 13, 2017
Updated On January 18, 2018
Like many people, the outcome of the 2016 election knocked us completely off balance. When we considered our purpose and strategy for the Trump era, we knew that we couldn’t go forward with business as usual.
That meant getting out of Washington. It meant listening to more and different people and considering new approaches to our research and our thinking. It was in this spirit that our district visit project was born. Our goal was to visit a handful of districts—generally those that voted for a different party at the Presidential level than the Congressional level in 2016—to meet and hear from people where they live.
These conversations are deliberately not conducted as traditional focus groups. Over two separate week-long visits, we host several intimate conversations in casual settings like an office, restaurant, or library. We meet with local leaders and citizens across a swath of backgrounds, professions, and political affiliations. We ask the same general set of questions, which focus on what it’s like to live there, not on politics. Sometimes politics comes up, sometimes it doesn’t. Ultimately, our goal is better to understand the major sources of hope and anxiety in different communities around the country.
Our written reports attempt to summarize what we learned from the people we met. Anecdotal conversation with three dozen folks cannot comprehensively capture what life is like for everyone living in these communities, but it can offer a glimpse into some of the major tensions and challenges facing these places. Some of what we’ve heard on these trips so far has been unique to each respective district; some themes have come up repeatedly.
Most of all, during the tumult of Trump’s presidency, these visits have been an important reminder of the humanity, complexity, and urgency behind the country’s most pressing policy issues.
Our first visits were to IL-17, the Quad Cities area. It’s a classic “switcher” district—it’s predominately white working class, and it shifted by 16 points from Obama ’12 to Trump ’16. It also re-elected Democrat Cheri Bustos to the House by a wide margin.
We met with nearly 40 people during two trips. And no matter who they voted for, what they told us was remarkably similar. Here’s a short overview of what we heard.
You can take a deeper dive in our Medium article that shares more on how residents view on issues like manufacturing, immigration, and education; what they think the future looks like for young people; and what they are looking for from leaders in Washington.
WI-3’s story is not one of industrial decay or a citizenry voting strictly out of anger, but one of an intense work ethic that binds the community together and helps it adapt to change. But for many of the Wisconsinites we spoke to, no amount of hard work can overcome one of their biggest frustrations: laggard government and partisan squabbling.
After two stops in the Midwest, we decided to head to a very different corner of the country for the third location of our listening tour. What we found were the complex and vibrant communities of Florida’s 26th and 27th districts, where both the landscape and the recent political trends diverge starkly from our first two stops.
Here’s a measure of how interesting we find Arizona’s second congressional district: we visited there in the middle of summer. We took two trips to AZ-2, visiting Tucson, Sierra Vista, and Bisbee. Here’s some of what we heard.
This seat has toggled between red and blue in every election since 2007. We were there to hear firsthand from residents about what it’s like to live in one of the most high-profile swing districts in the country.
Next up: Texas and Michigan. Stay tuned.
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