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Ope! Not all Ohioans identify as Midwestern

A cornfield in Greene County sits under a hazy sky.
Alejandro Figueroa
Cornfields, like this one in Greene County, dot the state. But it takes more than crops to make a state Midwestern.

Researchers from the Middle West Review, a scholarly journal studying the Midwest, posed a simple question to people across the country’s mid-section: ‘Do you consider yourself a part of the Midwest?’ Nearly 80% of Ohioans said, “You betcha!”

The rest had their doubts. That’s despite the U.S. Census Bureau classification of the Buckeye State as a part of the Midwest Region.

Other middle-of-the-country states were more sure of their place in the region. More than 90% of respondents in Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa proclaimed themselves Midwestern. The report’s author, Jon Lauck, said that’s because they stand firmly in the center of the region.

Ohio, on the other hand, is on the far eastern edge.

“When you go east, when you get to Steubenville, when you get down to Athens, when you get to that southeast corner of Ohio that butts up against Kentucky, then it's a little more Appalachia,” he said.

A map of the United States shows where the Midwest identity is most strongly felt.
Middle West Review
Ohio's Midwestern identity isn't as strong as its middle-of-the-country neighbors.

Some Cincinnatians and other southwest Ohioans may identify better with their southern neighbor across the river. Lauck said the same can be said for residents right across the border from Pennsylvania, who may see themselves as more northeasterners.

But the Midwestern identity is still by far the most prevailing one in the state. It grows stronger in intensity the more north and west in Ohio you go, said Lauck.

What is the Midwest?

The Midwest identity extends further than Lauck and other researchers thought it would.

Lauck expected the Dakotans, Nebraskans and Kansans to see themselves as Midwestern. But, he didn’t foresee that more than half the people in Wyoming and Idaho would proclaim themselves a part of the region. To the south, 30% of Kentuckians answered yes.

“The Midwest is wider or thicker than we thought it was when we started,” Lauck said.

But, it’s more than just a geographic boundary. It’s a cultural identity as well. Lauck said Midwesteners can find pride in the stereotype of their polite decency and the expectation of helping out your community.

“That's something that is a very precious quality in the world today. And I think we need to preserve it,” he said.

Jeez, who cares?

Lauck said the study is not about settling the all-too-polite competition over who is a “true” Midwesterner. It’s more about reminding people their region and hometown places a hand in shaping who they are.

“Sometimes we lose sight of that. We stare into our phones all day, we think everything is connected to the internet, and we think all these places are interchangeable,” Lauck said. “But they're not.”

Even for those who move out of the state, Lauck said their roots will stay with them – whether that looks like cheering for the Buckeyes or greeting your neighbors each morning with a chipper “How are ya?”

“This identity does not go away.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.