The Midwest is often referred to as “flyover country” by coastal elites who travel across the nation. It’s meant as a derogatory term to dismiss the states between New York and California.
But a new digital newsletter from cleveland.com in Ohio is embracing the term ahead of the 2020 presidential election, naming itself “The Flyover” as it delivers news on important issues discussed in the Midwest, the presidential candidates as they travel within the Midwest and how they address these issues. Cleveland.com is a news and information site in Ohio that delivers to 9.9 million users on a monthly average. The site is mobile-friendly and is active on both Twitter and Facebook.
The series launched just ahead of the second round of Democratic debates in Detroit, Michigan, on July 30. Previous to the Flyover, the team published the weekly Capitol Letter newsletter. As of July 31, It had 8,500 subscribers. They intend to use the same strategy for the Flyover.
It focuses on seven states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Seth Richardson, chief political writer for the newsletter, emphasized that “these are the states that are going to determine who the next president is going to be.”
Some of his recent stories covered increasing economic anxiety in the Midwest and the possibility of an initiative in Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions.
Richardson visits about 35 websites a day from all over the Midwest to create a “one-stop shop” for news pertinent to the region. The Flyover covers issues on ethanol, biofuel waivers, labor, manufacturing and deindustrialization. The idea is that the states within Middle America generally agree on the issues that should be paid attention to. “This realization that it’s a different culture from the coasts,” Richardson said. “There’s this unity among those states.”
Brian Calfano, associate professor of political science and journalism at the University of Cincinnati, said the Midwest will be essential in the 2020 election. He said the most important states to watch are Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Calfano said that forerunners in those states are essentially polling above incumbent President Donald Trump, well above the margin of error. The exception is Kamala Harris who, although still polling above Trump, is within the margin.
“It doesn’t bode well for an incumbent,” Calfano said.
In the past, Ohio had been the essential swing state for elections. In recent years the state has swung further right.
“Those days are gone,” Calfano said. “The Republican Party has solidified its gains in the state.”
He said the reason for this can be attributed to the Democratic Party moving further left, which has turned off many rural and suburban voters. The major cities in Ohio still lean left, but not enough to create a strong balance with the rural areas in the state, he added.
Calfano recently conducted a study based on the premise of “common ground.” The study was done on 500 Cincinnati-area residents that were exposed to two stills of a television news story with a script. One version had no mention of the phrase “common ground,” while the others did use the term.
Jeff Blevins, chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Cincinnati, said the findings were particularly interesting in Ohio because there is this “microcosm of the United States.” “You’ve got rural and urban in close proximity,” he said. “At the same time, people who have a lot of the same problems.”
Calfano said that the study was trying to test if political news stories placed in the context of “common ground” had an impact on how people think about the story and media. He said that one of the major things journalists have been struggling with is known as “positive stories.” These stories are easy for the reader to connect with because they somewhat achieve this notion of “common ground.”
The Flyover also strives to reach to readers outside of the Midwest. “This isn’t just for the people in these seven states,” Richardson said. “Because it is such an important part of the country it’s for people everywhere.”
Nika Schoonover is a correspondent for GJR based in Chicago, where she is a student at DePaul University. Follow her on Twitter @NikaSchoonover or connect with her on LinkedIn.