What’s the Matter With Ohio?

For many years, Ohio has been thought of as a bellwether state: With rare exceptions, whoever won Ohio in a presidential election won the nation as a whole. But in 2020, Donald Trump won Ohio by about eight points even as Joe Biden led the national popular vote by more than four points and, of course, won the Electoral College vote.

Then Ohio’s 2022 Senate election was won by J.D. Vance, who has staked out a hard-line ideological position that may be more thoroughly MAGA than that of Trump himself. And in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, Trump’s endorsement was enough to propel Bernie Moreno, a former car dealer who has never held elected office, to victory over the preferred candidates of the state’s relatively moderate Republican establishment.

So I’ve been trying to understand what happened to Ohio, and what it can teach us about America’s future. My short answer is that the United States of America has become the Disconnected States of America, on several levels.

Once upon a time, Ohio’s bellwether status could be explained by the fact that in some sense it looked like America. These days, no state really looks like America because the economic fortunes of different regions have diverged so drastically. And Ohio has found itself on the losing side of that divergence.

You might expect Ohio voters to support politicians whose policies would help reverse this relative decline. But there’s a striking disconnect between who voters, especially working-class white voters, perceive as being on their side and politicians’ actual policies. For that matter, as I wrote earlier this week, there’s a striking disconnect between voters’ views of what is happening with the economy and their personal experiences. It’s vibes all the way down.

OK, some facts.

One quick way to see the divergence in regional fortunes is to compare per capita income of a given state with income in a relatively rich state like Massachusetts. During the generation-long boom that followed World War II, Ohio and Massachusetts were basically tied. Since around 1980, however, Ohio has been on a long relative slide; its income is now about a third less than that of Massachusetts.

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