THE WORLD IN 2021: FIVE STORES TO WATCH FOR | THE ECONOMIST

The World in 2021 will start to look beyond COVID-19: to the launch of an asteroid-smashing space probe, the next step in the fight against climate change and China’s supremacy at the box office. Here are five stories to watch out for. (Video release: Dec. 23, 2020) _________________________________________________________________________________

Culture and Politics

2020: A Year of Social Panic,

Spiking Gun Sales, and 

a Pandemic That Still Rages 

 
By Steve Rensberry
Opinion / Analysis
_________________

    EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - 1/1/2021 - The year 2020 was one for the history books. Gun sales went through the roof, murder and violent shootings practically doubled in major cities across the country, political tensions and polarization was fiercer than ever, and the leader of the free world -- angry at losing an election -- has repeatedly tried to redefine reality, peddle election conspiracies, and downplay a pandemic that has claimed more than 330,000 American lives.
    
Firearms manufactured in the U.S. by type. Source: ATF
     
    The trends are worth documenting, and analyzing, though at least one writer on the subject urges patience given the uncertainty and complexity of the situation. Yes, murder and shootings were up significantly in Chicago, but they were also significantly up in most every other major city in the country. Crime analyst Jeff Asher, in fact, looked at 50 major U.S. cities this past year and concluded that murder was up on average by 35-36 percent relative to 2019, all but blowing away the previous year-to-year record change of 12.5 percent.

    Also, while people have been buying guns like it was bread at the supermarket, experts have noted that an estimated 40 percent of those purchases have been by first-time buyers, at least in Illinois, and most were handguns -- which I suppose is a bit more comforting than AK-47s or rocket launchers.

    One indication of just how record-shattering gun sales were in Illinois in 2020 comes from the Illinois State Police (ISP), who reported in early December that they were battling an enormous backlog of Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card applications.

    The demand has been outstripping the ISP's capacity for years, the ISP said, with the number of FOID card holders growing from 1.2 to 2.2 million in just the past decade. The number of concealed carry permit holders in the state grew from 90,301 in 2014 to 343,2099 in 2020, a three-fold increase.

  
Firearm registration per state. Source: ATF

 
"Due to the lengthy budget impasses, the Firearms Services Fund (FSF) was 'swept' in 2015 and 2018 and no plan to maintain or expand staffing was developed during that period," the ISP stated in the notice. "The current administration has not swept the fund and, in 2019, new leadership over ISP FSB (Illinois State Police Firearm Services Bureau) initiated a hiring plan and metrics-based strategic plan focused on outcomes and accountability. This year, the ISP FSB was confronted with a massive work increase across all categories."

    From 2017 to 2020, FOID card applications increased in Illinois by 167 percent, and Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program (FTIP) requests increased by 45 percent from where it was in 2019, to 506,104.

    "ISP FSB processed an unprecedented 64,000+ FTIPs in March 2020 -- the largest number recorded for one month until that record was broken in June with 65,000+ FTIPs," the ISP stated. "More than 400,000 calls came into the FSB Call Center from May to November when a new automated phone system with metrics was activated."

    In 2019, ISP data showed there were 2,285,990 active FOID card holders in the state and 325,187 people with permits to carry a concealed weapon. Although submitting one's fingerprints can speed up the application process, especially for a concealed carry permit, it is not mandated. "Only 0.06% of FOID card holders were fingerprinted as part of the FOID/FCCL application process," the ISP states. 

    FOID card applications totaled 170,178 in 2014, 163,172 in 2015, 187,947 in 2016, 166,649 in 2017, and 256,353 in 2018. In 2019, they climbed slightly higher to roughly 262,000. However, from January 2020 to November 2020 the ISP received 445,945 applications. The number of Illinois residents with concealed carry licenses, meanwhile, has climbed to more than 343,300.

    What is fueling the historic rise? That question has been asked by multiple experts since at least mid-summer. In a Dec. 12, 2020 news story for the Peoria Journal Star, writers Ann Sweeney and Stacy St. Clair quote Illinois State Police Director Brendon Kelly as saying the increase is "undeniable," and describing it as a reflection of tensions seen across the country.

    Sweeney and St. Clair cite an initial spike in March as COVID-19 began to spread and Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders. "In that month alone, there were 64,000 background checks performed in anticipation of a firearm sale," they write. Another spike happened in June when racial protests began to spread, with more than 65,000 inquiries.

    Because the tracking of private sales is limited, the total number of guns sold during 2020 is likely to be higher than the 506,104 logged through the Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program, they said. It is also unclear exactly how many firearms are being sold to one individual following just one background check.

    To me, the surge in violent shootings is horrendously sad, and another indication that we simply have a long way to go in reducing crime in the country. Is it due to a lack of policing effectiveness? The result of police being less aggressive for fear of a backlash, or undertaking fewer patrols because too many officers are off sick with COVID-19? Some officials have speculated as much.

    The good news, if you can call it that, is that the current spike in violent crime follows several years of declining numbers, representing mostly a setback.

    As for the spike in gun purchases, it smacks me as both reactionary and fear-driven, yet sadly understandable given the spirit of the times. A lot of people don't feel safe and they don't trust the police, and sometimes even their neighbors. The downside is that experts fear it could seriously increase the risk of suicides, lead to more overall crime through firearm theft and misuse, and lead to more injuries or accidental deaths by first-time buyers, many of whom may have received less than rigorous training because of the pandemic.

    Meanwhile, here we are at the start of another year and COVID-19 infections continue to claim lives, despite the roll-out of promising vaccines. It needs to happen faster.

    What can be said about the pandemic this past year that hasn't already been said? Although it has been highly politicized in the U.S., the fact that it has spread the world over, leading at last count to 1.82 million deaths worldwide and 83.4 million total cases, should be enough for people to pull together and defeat a common enemy.

    As we head into 2021, we can only hope. 
 
Reference

COVID-19 Rates

St. Jacob Zip Code Shows

Highest COVID-19 Rate in County

County's Test Positivity Rate at 12.5 Percent


By Steve Rensberry
RP News
__________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill., - 12/27/2020 - According to the latest COVID-19 Status Report from John Hopkins University, Madison County, Ill., has recorded 20,238 confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus so far, 373 of which have resulted in death. The county's fatality rate mirrors that of the state's, at 1.84 percent, with about 7,652 cases per 100,000 population.

    A Madison County Health Department
Note: Case totals are cumulative.
update of Dec. 27 shows a slightly higher number of cases based on contact tracing data, with 21,484, and a 7-day average case positivity rate of 12.5 percent. On Dec., 26, the 7-day case positivity rate had dropped to 11.90 percent, according to MCHD numbers.

A breakdown of cases per zip code made available on the department's dashboard shows residents in the St. Jacob zip code area with the highest percentage of COVID cases, at 11.64 percent out of 2,155 people in 62281. The Hamel area zip code, 62046, totaling 713 residents, was second highest with a rate of 11.07 percent. 

 Note: the percentage of COVID cases per zip code as a percentage of population is different than the 7-day positivity rate, which is based on the percentage of positive cases out of the number of people tested for that period of time.

The average preliminary 7-day statewide test positivity rate for the state of Illinois was 8.5 percent on Dec. 25, with approximately 17,336 people who have died from COVID-19 so far, and a total number of recorded cases of about 939,000

MCHD graphic. See: Status Report

   All 11 Illinois COVID Regions entered into Tier 3 Mitigations on Nov. 20.

Madison County, in Region 4, had zero days under the 12 percent threshhold on Dec. 24, ICU Beds at 1 day over the 20 percent threshhold, and med/surgical beds 1 day over the 20 percent threshhold.

"IDPH will continue to track the positivity rates and hospital capacity metrics in regions over 14-day monitoring periods to determine if mitigations can be relaxed, if additional mitigations are required, or if current mitigations should remain in place. For Tier 3 mitigation metrics to be relaxed (i.e., move to Tier 2), a region must experience less than 12% test positivity rate (7-day rolling average) for three consecutive days, AND greater than 20% percent available intensive care unit (ICU) and medical/surgical bed availability (3-day rolling average) for three consecutive days, AND decline in the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital (7-day rolling average) in 7 out of the last 10 days," the IDPH states.

Additional information can be found on the Illinois Department of Public Health's COVID page, and this page on region metrics. Other information about Madison County and testing options can be found at the MCHD's web page.

U.S. Economy

Major Economic Indictors

     Most Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data


The CPI. Bureau of Labor Statistics graph.
    (RP News) - 12/24/2020 - The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest summary of major economic indicators for the United States, as of Dec. 23, 2020, shows a slight bump in prices for urban consumers, as well as a drop in the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent. “These improvements reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to COVID-19, though the pace of improvement has moderated in recent months,” the bureau states. 

    The bureau's most recent update and summary:

Consumer Price Index

    In November, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers rose 0.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis; rising 1.2 percent over the last 12 months, not seasonally adjusted. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in November (SA); up 1.6 percent over the year (NSA).

Employment Cost Index

    Compensation costs rose 0.5 percent for civilian workers, seasonally adjusted, from June 2020 to September 2020. Over the year, compensation rose 2.4 percent, with wages and salaries rising 2.5 percent and benefit costs increasing 2.3 percent. See: cost index

Employment Situation

    Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 245,000 in November, and the unemployment rate edged down to 6.7 percent. These improvements reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to COVID-19, though the pace of improvement has moderated in recent months. See: employment situation.

Producer Price Index

    The Producer Price Index for final demand advanced 0.1 percent in November, as prices for final demand goods increased 0.4 percent, and the index for final demand services was unchanged. The final demand index increased 0.8 percent for the 12 months ended in November.

Productivity and Costs

    Productivity increased 4.6 percent in the nonfarm business sector in the third quarter of 2020; unit labor costs decreased 6.6 percent (seasonally adjusted annual rates). In manufacturing, productivity increased 19.9 percent and unit labor costs decreased 12.1 percent. See: productivity and costs

Real Earnings

    Real average hourly earnings increased 0.1 percent over the month in November, seasonally adjusted. Average hourly earnings increased 0.3 percent and CPI-U increased 0.2 percent. Real average weekly earnings increased 0.1 percent over the month.

U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes

    U.S. import prices rose 0.1 percent in November following a 0.1-percent decrease in October. Prices for exports advanced 0.6 percent in November, after rising 0.2 percent the previous month. Over the past year, import prices declined 1.0 percent and export prices fell 1.1 percent. See: indexes


Unemployment rate, 2000-2020. BLS graph

Stephen Jellen / Opinion


'Anti-Science' Attitudes May Be

 Symptom of More Practical 

Realities, Lack of Opportunity




By Stephen Jellen 
Commentary 
___________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - 12/22/2020 - Some Americans are obviously disdainful of science, or at least some science. That is hard for those who respect science to understand. To gain insight we might consider the practical effects that science has had on the lives of many Americans. Science has created machines that have taken unskilled workers' jobs. That process is just beginning. 

Views on science and society. Graph courtesy of Pew Research Center.
    Technology has facilitated globalization, allowing jobs to move overseas. Many workers have been recently thrown out of their jobs by the science of epidemiology, which makes them choose between health science and employment. Some have decided to reject the scientific basis of the epidemic in order to make their choice easier.

We should empathize with them. They are literally scrambling for their lives. Science has created new jobs but they are not suitable for many. It has destroyed many old jobs. This has produced a cultural fragmentation based on education and ability to do technical work. Science has thus made some folks vastly richer while many have been made poorer by it.

Scientific expertise can put young people over older folks, breaking a time-honored social protocol. Old skills are less useful now. Old work ethics are less relevant. It is no wonder that many reject science as they double-down on traditional belief systems. Science has made traditional religion seem more like a fairytale.

In having to accommodate a world vastly better explained by science, many Americans have turned fundamentalist in their views, sometimes rejecting science in total. The power of science seems more like a danger to them than a benefit. Thus many cling to their religious traditions defiantly against all evidence, sometimes with outright hatred for that, and for those, which they see as threatening their foundational beliefs. Some Americans rejected electricity and automobiles when those became available at the beginning of the 20th Century. They cling thus yet today, driving horse-drawn vehicles, lighting with kerosene and shunning communications. Their communities remain centered on religious traditions.

It is highly ironic that now the latest iteration of reactionary anti-science relies on the internet received on cell phones to facilitate social reinforcement of selective anti-science ideology. And it is unusual in that it is politicized the way it is. Past reactionaries sought to isolate themselves, to get away from "the world." Today's reactionaries want to dominate the world, to force a specific acceptance of science.

Thus what looks like anti-science may be more about disaffection with social and political developments. These would be economic inequality and the lack of opportunity for many Americans. Thus it might be better to see what looks like anti-science to be a rejection of supply side, trickle-down governance. It might be a reaction to the failure of government to provide effective public education, and to provide labor policy that allows workers to share in the wealth created science that claims to benefit all of mankind. For so long as science gives some vast wealth and deprives others, it shall not be the universal friend of mankind. And it shall not find universal acceptance.

Stephen Jellen is a long-time resident of Edwardsville and a frequent contributor to area publications on matters of politics and social policy.


Driving Patterns

 Reckless Driving, Speeding,

Collisions Increase During

Pandemic, Data Shows


By Steve Rensberry 
RP News
___________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - 12/20/2020 - Data collected from the location-sharing app Life360 suggests that while drivers in the U.S. may be driving less because of the pandemic, a higher percentage than normal are also driving more recklessly, speeding more and having more accidents.

Cars travel along U.S. 40. Photo by S. Rensberry

    In a Dec. 17 press release, the company shared data collected between March and December 2020 and compared it to the same period in 2019.

The San-Francisco-based company has an estimated 27 million active monthly users in more than 160 countries, according to an investor notice release in February. It was expecting to grow to 35 million by the end of this year. This study took into consideration only users within the U.S.

Key findings:

  • With social distancing measures, business closures and a shift to working and learning from home for many, members in the U.S. drove 16 percent less during the pandemic, per active user (917 miles in 2020 compared to 1,092 miles in 2019).
  • Life360 noted 10 percent more car collisions during the pandemic, per miles driven than the previous year. Collisions are detected by an app safety feature that recognizes when a user is driving more than 25 miles per hour and has been in an accident, either as a driver or passenger.
  • The average monthly dispatch of emergency vehicles increased by 8 percent during the pandemic. This was generated via the app’s Crash Detection feature, which dispatches emergency responders to the exact location of an accident when help is needed.
  • Speeding events, defined as accelerating beyond 80 miles per hour, increased by 12 percent during the pandemic.
  • Distracted driving, determined by how often members use their phone while driving, increased by 9 percent during the pandemic.

Other studies in addition to Life360's have show a rise in more dangerous driving incidents during the pandemic, including one study in April by telematics provider Geotab, which shows increases in commercial transportation speeds in major U.S. cities despite fewer drivers and less traffic congestion.

Drug Laws

 Gallup Poll Shows Usual Holdouts as

Support for Legal Weed Hits 

Record High in U.S. of 68%


Support Higher Among College Grads, Wealthier Households



By Steve Rensberry
RP News
___________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - (RP News) - 12/15/2020 - The writing may be on the wall for the eventual legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana nationwide. Given the election results of last month, the country now has 15 states, plus Washington D.C., where marijuana can be purchased legally for both medicinal and recreational purposes, albeit with restrictions.

Graphic courtesy of statista
   Three dozen states now have laws allowing for medicinal use, and the number supporting recreational use has been inching upward with each election.

"The new developments cement the American West as a stronghold of legal weed. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the drug in 2012. South Dakota actual gave recreational and medical use of cannabis the green light at the same time, meaning there are now 36 states and the nation's capital with medical marijuana laws in place," notes statista data journalist Niall McCarthy.

Increased access to the herb follows growing public support for legal marijuana. According the Gallup organization, support passed the two-thirds mark a little while ago.

"Americans are more likely now than at any point in the past five decades to support the legalization of marijuana in the U.S.," Megan Brenan writes in a Nov. 9, 2020 story for Gallup. "The 68% of U.S. Adults who currently back the measure is not statistically different from last year's 66%; however, it is nominally Gallup's highest reading, exceeding the 64% to 66% range seen from 2017 to 2019."

In 1969 just 12 percent of Americans backed legalization, a Gallup poll taken at the time indicated. It reached 28 percent in 1977, then 30 percent in 2000. See: Support for Legal Marijuana Inches Up to New High of 68%.

"The latest data are from a Sept. 30-Oct. 15 poll, conducted before the election that saw marijuana legalization proposals on the ballot in several states. Voters in all of these states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota -- authorized the legal use of recreational marijuana in the Nov. 3 election. They join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing pot for recreational purposes. Additionally, voters in Mississippi and South Dakota join 33 states and the District of Columbia in passing laws legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes," Brenan writes.

Interestingly, support was greater among college grads than non-college grads, according to the Gallup poll, at 76 percent and 64 percent respectively. Support among 18-29 years old was highest at 79 percent, followed by 30-49 year olds at 75 percent, 50-64 year olds at 60 percent, and those over 65 years of age at 55 percent.

Support in households making more than $100,000 per year was highest at 74 percent; for those making $40,000-$100,000 per year it was 68 percent, and for those making less than $40,000 per year it was 67 percent.

Approximately 69 percent of males and 66 percent of females supported legalization.

Brenan notes that Republicans, conservatives, and weekly churchgoers remain the holdouts. "Over eight in 10 Democrats and liberals, and more than seven in 10 independents and moderates, back legalization, but just under half of Republicans and conservatives do," she writes.

Reference

The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Weed

Prison Reform

  U.S. Incarceration Rates

Remain Highest in the World


Advocacy Groups Say Reform Efforts Don't Go Far Enough


By Steve Rensberry

RP News
___________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - 12/6/2020 - The United States continues to lead the world in incarceration rates, with approximately 2.2 million people currently living their lives in the country's prisons and jails, according to researchers at The Sentencing Project.

Source: The Sentencing Project
    Unfortunately, progress toward reform remains slow or even nonexistent in many states.

    "This follows a nearly 700 percent growth in the prison population between 1972 and 2009," the organization says, highlighting an online report available here. The prison population has stabilized in recent years, it says, largely through pragmatic changes in policy and practice, with a 9 percent decrease since peaking in 2009

The total prison population (state and federal) was approximately 1.4 million at the start of 2019. Adding another 740,700 in jail, 874,800 on parole, and 3,673,100 on probation raises the total number of people under control of the U.S. Corrections System to 6,613,500 individuals.

"For more than a decade, the political climate of criminal justice can be seen in a variety of legislative, judicial, and policy changes that have successfully decreased incarceration without adverse impacts on public safety," the organization says. It cites Proposition 47 which California voters passed in 2014, in which certain lower level crimes were reclassified to misdemeanors; as well as reform efforts targeting the Rockefeller drug laws in 2009; the Fair Sentencing Act, passed in 2010, reducing sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses; and a decision in 2014 by the United States Sentencing Commission to reduce excessive sentences for up to 46,000 people in prison for federal drug offenses. See: criminal justice facts.

    Not all states are seeing the same results, however, with six states having seen no reduction from peak levels, and 25 states seeing prison reductions of less than 10 percent. The states of Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oregon actually increased, recording their highest prison populations ever in 2018.

Reforms have been the exception for anyone imprisoned for violent crimes, such as burglary, robbery, assault, rape or murder. "Overall, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense has only declined by 2 percent between the year 2009 and 2017, despite substantial declines in violence since the mid-1990s," the organization states in its publication, U.S. Prison Decline: Insufficient to Undo Mass Incarceration.

Why are so many Americans in prison? One common view is that longer sentences and an overzealous drug war have played a big part, which they have, but Forham Law School Professor John Pfaff cites other significant trends, namely a trend by district attorneys to file an increasing number of felony charges, in effect becoming much more aggressive and sending far more people to prison.

"I can't tell you why they're doing that," Pfaff said, in a 2015 article by Leon Neyfakh for slate.com, Why So Many Americans are in Prison? A Provocative New Theory. "No one's really got an answer to that yet. But it does seem that the number of felony cases filed shoots up very strongly, even as the number of arrests goes down."

Pfaff cites data showing a sharp rise in crime and the prison population from 1975-1991, with violent crime rising by 400 percent from 1960-1991, and property crime by 200 percent. He estimates that as much as half of the prison growth during that period could be attributed to rising crime.

Source: The Sentencing Project
The interesting thing was that from 1991-2010 crime was on the decline, and fewer people were being arrested. The prison population, however, kept climbing.

    "What appears to happen during this time—the years I look at are 1994 to 2008, just based on the data that’s available—is that the probability that a district attorney files a felony charge against an arrestee goes from about 1 in 3, to 2 in 3. So over the course of the ’90s and 2000s, district attorneys just got much more aggressive in how they filed charges. Defendants who they would not have filed felony charges against before, they now are charging with felonies," Pfaff states.

One possible explanation, he said, is that the crime boom made the prosecutor's position somewhat of a "launch-pad position" with respect to political ambitions, so appearing to be "tough on crime" was important -- even though crime was going down. The data is unclear, however.

The Sentencing Project cites the following in a fact sheet about prisons:

  • The number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons increased by 9.7% from 1,391,261 to 1,526,792 between 2000 and 2015.
  • In addition to the nearly 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons, there were 721,300 people in local jails in 2015, yielding a total incarcerated population of 2.2 million.
  • Between 2010 and 2015 the number of people in prison decreased by 4.9%.
  • 1 in every 115 adults in America was in prison or jail in 2015.4.6 million people were on probation or parole in 2015 for a total of 6.7 million people in America under some form of criminal justice supervision.
  • The 2015 U.S. incarceration rate of 670 people per 100,000 population is the highest in the world.

Illinois Politics


 Politics, Prejudice,

and Party Realignments

in Southern Illinois


A Look at 52 Downstate Counties and How They Voted in 2020


By Steve Rensberry
Opinion / Analysis
_________________

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill., - 12/1/2020 - Look at a map of how Southern Illinois residents have voted since the late 1990s and you won't see much competition, nor much blue. This year's colossal presidential election was a perfect example, with Republican candidates -- the president included -- receiving support from roughly 70 percent of voters in nearly every county at-or-below the Springfield line.

Results per county (pg 1). See citations for data sources.
   How deep does the red run in Southern Illinois, and how long will its love affair with the GOP continue? If the two main political parties stay as they are, with Democrats leaning liberal and Republicans leaning conservative, probably for a good while yet. But there are no guarantees.

This particular analysis, compiled from the most recent election data available, looks specifically at 52 of the state's 102 counties, the most southern, with statistics on how each county voted in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and a select number of other demographics. Believe it or not, as of this past week not all votes in every county had yet been finalized or completely counted. I chose to use percentages for comparison rather than vote totals for this reason. The declared winners are not expected to change.

Results per county (pg 2). See citations for data sources.
   In one sense, given the region's history, the latest expression of political sentiment shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Historically, the region has always leaned conservative, the experts say, sharing cultural values with the South in general as well as with neighboring Missouri and Upper Southern states such as Tennessee and Kentucky. For decades it was a more conservative Democratic Party that captured their votes, dominating elections from before the American Civil War, through Reconstruction, up until the 1960s. Then things began to change. "Beginning as recently as the presidential election of 2000, Democrats have under-performed in Southern Illinois despite winning Illinois consecutively," this online description about the region states.

What is surprising to me is the depth of Republican allegiance and loyalty to such a polarizing president, apparently oblivious to the integrity they've sacrificed in the process -- a question more than a few people have asked since Nov. 4

  One estimate is that nationwide Trump won approximately 92 percent of the vote that he had in 2016. By comparison, of the 52 Southern Illinois counties considered in this study, Trump captured 98.7 percent of the vote he received that year.

   In the aggregate, pro-Trump voters in these 52 counties represented 69.6 percent of the region's vote totals in 2016, and 71.73 percent in 2020. Approximately 2.437 million votes were cast for Trump by Illinois voters in the 2020 General Election, compared to 2.135 million in 2016. See: 2020 Election Results.

"According to the national exit poll, Trump won 92% of the voters who cast a ballot for him in 2016. He also took 85% of self-described conservatives and 94% of self-described Republicans. Trump won only 81% of conservatives and 88% of Republicans back in 2016," writes Harry Enten in a 2018 article for CNN, How Biden won: He built on Clinton's successes. "Biden emerged victorious by winning an even larger share of the Democratic base than Clinton in 2016 and picking off voters in the middle of the electorate."

Southern Illinois has become a sea of red.
   Having been a resident of five southern counties since 1988, specifically the counties of Bond, Effingham, Madison, St. Clair and Clinton, I can tell you first-hand a good deal of the animosity toward the northern, more Democratic half of the state has been here for at least that long. The kind of intense devotion to a presidential candidate, like we've seen with Trump, is different however -- and a bit difficult to process. Where are the guard rails? Does might make right? I haven't seen a satisfying answer from Illinois Republicans to either of these questions, despite a platform in previous years that touted principles, ethics and fiscal conservatism. Have they changed that much, or was it all a ruse to begin with? You tell me.

We are, it's been noted, at a point where the pressure to rally around one political party and unite to defeat a common political enemy is everything. It's all hands on deck. Conservative Southern Illinoisans, however, were in the polarized camp long before Trumpism came along.

Again, from first-hand experience, if you're talking politics with a typical resident in small-town Southern Illinois, it's automatically assumed that you: 1) Hate Michael Madigan. 2) Know without question that Democrats are to blame for the state's economic problems. 3) Hate Chicago, and the people who live there. 4) Despise taxes from the depths of your soul, especially property taxes used to fund public schools. 5) Know that everyone north of Springfield is out to rob you of your hard-earned tax dollars, in order to fund a Democratic-led spending spree that benefits only those who live in-or-around Chicago. 6) Believe that everyone who leaves Illinois does so because of high taxation and the state's Democratic leadership.

There is no middle ground in the debate, and if you don't share these assumptions or insist on more proof or evidence, expect to be scoffed at.

Madigan, of course, does have some serious corruption issues on his hands, but thankfully for the Republicans they now have Gov. JB Pritzker, who conveniently fills the need for a downstate nemesis. Evidence of corruption or rural bias? Who needs it. He's a Democrat. Thus we see "Pritzker Sucks" signs on display, even when he's not on the ballot.

I've seen at least three types of analysis with respect to Southern Illinois and its political alliances.

One involves economics. Though both parties share blame for the state's fiscal woes, Democratic Party critics have successfully hammered their case home, painting Democrats as spendthrifts, out of touch, and the source of all that's wrong with the state's economy. One of the more neutral articles I've read on the subject was written by Daniel Vock in 2018: Who Ruined Illinois? 

Edward McClelland, writing for ChicagoMag in a 2018 article Why It's So Hard for Republicans to Win in Illinois, quotes Southern Illinois University Professor of Political Science John Jackson who cites the loss of unions and their influence in the region as a major factor in the loss of Democratic Party strength. "The same thing that’s happened to the South has happened here, though ours came more recently," Jackson said.

George W. Smith, 1824. Wikipedia Commons License
 
     Another type of analysis involves culture and the very early days of the state. Go back far enough and the most southern counties were clearly more aligned with pro-slavery attitudes and less progressive policies than those to the north.

Consider this description of the state's southern-most county, Alexander County: "Settled largely by white migrants from the Upland South, southern Illinois had many racial attitudes of the South. As African Americans settled in Cairo to seek jobs on steamboats, ferries, in shipping and railroads, there were tensions between the racial groups. White residents sometimes used violence and terrorism, as well as discrimination, to keep black residents in second-class positions. They excluded them from the city government and the police and fire departments, and relatively few African Americans were hired to work in the local stores . . . There were three lynchings of blacks in Alexander County in the years between Reconstruction and the early 20th century. The county had the second-highest number of lynchings of African Americans in all of Illinois."

Mary Bohlten, writing for Illinois Times about touring the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, states: "When I toured the museum and memorial last spring, I was disheartened to realize Illinois had 56 documented lynchings from 1877 to 1950. St. Clair County had the most with 40, but Sangamon County had two, associated with the 1908 race riots. Deep southern Illinois counties had lynchings but so did Cook, Macon, Marshall and Vermillion. So did such states as Oregon, California, North Dakota, Michigan and Trump’s native New York."

Increased mobility across the nation has been cited as another factor in increased polarization, and in the concentration of residents of like mind. Speaking in 2014, NPR Correspondent Shankar Vedantam had this to say about the relationship between geography and ideology:

"There's new research now that links the red state/blue state phenomenon with the fact that 40 to 50 million Americans move every year. So we are an increasingly mobile society," Vedantam explained, citing research by University of Virginia Psychologist Brian Nosek showing that liberals and conservatives tend to migrate to areas that are more aligned with their own ideology. "The downside is that if this mobility phenomenon is real, it means that the more mobile we get as a society, the more polarized we're going to become. Red states are going to get redder. Blue states are going to get bluer. The United States is going to get less united."

Reform and change is good, but what are we supposed to make of the kind of radical, norm-breaking presidency we've just lived through, apparently supported by a large number of residents in Southern Illinois? I suppose we should continue to expect the unexpected. The irony is that while the Republicans in downstate Illinois fixate on what they see as "corrupt and irresponsible Democrats," they've all but climbed in bed with one of the most corrupt and irresponsible Republican presidents in our nation's history. Who their next reactionary leader will be, and how extreme they'll be, is anybody's guess.

Graph Data Sources
Statistical Atlas (educational/income/ethnicity data)
Politico (2020 election results per county)
Politico (2016 election results per county)
Wikipedia (county population data)
270towin (national and state election results)