Earlier this year, a very interesting paper was released describing how the factors that might give rise to hate groups aren’t uniform across the U.S. (a free version is available here). In hindsight, this seems obvious, but it’s actually important: I think one of the reasons the left, construed broadly, disagrees about what gives rise to bigotry (and how to combat it in the political sphere) is because people are working from different mental models. In other words, we’re not necessarily discussing the same phenomenon*.
Of all places, Raw Story gives a very good synopsis of the paper** (boldface mine):
New research from the University of Utah provides a much more nuanced picture of what gives rise to organized hate groups that can better serve those working to dismantle them. In the Midwest, economics is a more influential factor than immigration. On the East Coast, more religious areas correlate with more per capita hate groups, while education has little influence…
The research used census data to track specific socioeconomic variables, such as population changes over a five-year period, poverty, and education levels. Researchers mapped population percentage of White non-Latinos because places changing from strong racial and ethnic similarity are more likely to experience a negative reaction to change. Poverty is a driver of hate because extremist groups promise the impoverished a way out of financial difficulty or provide a group to blame. The group also measured conservative religious and political ideology.
The maps of these socioeconomic factors were then compared to a 2014 map of 784 organized hate groups across the country that the Southern Poverty Law Center created…
In general, the research reveals that less diversity, more poverty, less population change, and less education all correlate with more hate groups. But how influential those factors are depends on where you live.
On the West Coast, high poverty and a large concentration of White people in an area are the most influential factors driving hate groups. While the region generally has racial diversity, non-White people moving in and changing a demographic quickly can become targets, Medina said. In the southern parts of California and Arizona, lower education levels and higher poverty levels are the most important indicators.
In the central United States, economic factors—such as poverty and employment levels—are most likely to push people into hate groups. Immigration is less of a factor because fewer people are moving into the region compared to the coasts.
Population shift is the most telling factor on the East Coast. Areas with more people leaving than coming have more hate groups. This trend is also present throughout the country, Medina said, but is most prominent in the East. Rates of education, poverty, and diversity have less influence there.
The measurements of ideology—by concentrations of religious people and Republicans—created somewhat different regional maps. Counties with strong religious communities have fewer hate groups on the West Coast and parts of the Midwest and Southeast. Yet, most of the Midwest and East Coast see more hate groups as counties grow more religious. Similar geographic trends are seen when tracking hate groups and Republicanism.
I do have some quibbles with the study, though I don’t think any of them are too problematic. I’m not sure lumping together the East Coast is the best way to do the analysis. Hate groups are rather broad, and many are different in kind. And as the authors themselves note, there are common features, but they have different strengths of effect in different regions.
All that said, it’s important to realize that different factors appear to be associated with different regions. In some places, economics is important, while in others, religion plays a critical role, and, in other places, demographic change is really the key correlate.
Something to consider when we’re shouting at each other about how to solve and mitigate this problem. Most importantly, most analyses do not take into account regional variation, but they do need to begin doing so.
*Discussing politics with someone who’s knowledgeable from the opposite coast, for example, yields a very different perspective, even though the West and Mid-Atlantic/Upper East Coast are supposedly liberal bastions, and thus nearly identical.
**Not usually what I expect from Raw Story, but it’s good!