Prevailing wisdom says the Minnesota countryside is home to our most intolerant residents. They’re the people who voted for a president who dabbles in white nationalism, after all -- a man who’s made immigrants the central villain of his us-vs.-them politics.
Rural Minnesota is also where our racial strife most conspicuously flares.
But when it comes to political intolerance – not the ethnic variety – its finest practitioners are staring at us in the mirror each morning. We Twin Citians are the most unforgiving the Land of 10,000 Lakes has to offer.
At least that’s the finding of the analytics firm PredictWise. It surveyed 2,000 people to ask basic questions that would reveal their level of partisanship. Such as: “How would you react if a member of your immediate family married a Democrat?” Or: “How well does the term 'Selfish' describe Republicans?”
Modeling created from the survey was then applied to the demographics, partisan identification, etc., of every county in the country. (See a more sophisticated explanation of the methodology here.)
Surprise: The most intolerant aren’t the bumpkins, but highly educated, urban, white, and older people.
Surprise No. 2: The study was commissioned by The Atlantic, a magazine that counts on these very people for the bulk of its readership, so chances are slim it had its thumb on the scale.
There’s a compelling explanation for all this: Since the educated tend to have more money, they can afford to segregate themselves by living among the like-minded. That sequestering means fewer interactions with people they disagree with, making it easier to reduce those on the other side of the political divide to one-dimensional bad guys.
Throw in the rather monolithic liberalism that pervades both Minneapolis and St. Paul – plus many of their suburbs – and the opposition can easily be seen as a band of retrograde aliens from an unpleasant, distant shore. (People of color, on the other hand, tend to be the most tolerant, since they have no choice but to interact with others in a majority-white world.)
PredictWise places Hennepin County in the 93rd percentile of intolerance, meaning only 7 percent of the country is worse than we are. Ramsey is even higher at 95 percent. St. Louis County, home to Duluth, clocks in at 90 percent.
Though most of Minnesota is fairly intolerant as a whole – compared to the more rural expanses of the Plains and western states – the least so tend to be in the north-central and southwest parts of of the state.
Then again, it might be wise not to read too much into this. After all, some level of intolerance seems perfectly reasonable.
If you’re a woman, for example, can you really be faulted for not wanting to raise children with a man who teaches the kids to distrust science, or assume that any information they don’t like is automatically fake? There are also innumerable studies showing that most people discriminate against political opponents in everything from hiring to dating.
In the end, it’s not really a matter of whether we’re intolerant, but to what degree.