How the rise of white nationalism is being shaped by population changes in rural America
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

America has been racked by an ugly culture war that was in the makings long before the election of President Donald Trump. That culture war has given rise to extreme right-wing populism, anti-immigrant hysteria, and often outright white nationalist demonstrations — and much of it is concentrated in rural areas. But how did this come about?


Demographic data analyzed by Axios suggests the trends that have spooked segments of the country to racist political causes — and suggests why these causes are ultimately doomed in the long run.

Nationally, racial and ethnic minorities are becoming a larger and larger share of the population, with white people projected to lose the majority within 20 years. Regionally, Hispanics have surged 18.6 percent since 2010, mostly concentrated in the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, and South Florida. African-Americans, meanwhile, grew 27.4 percent, mostly throughout the Old South "Black Belt" region.

What is particularly striking in the data is that the Midwest has seen some growth of minorities, mainly the Asian American and Native American population, but considerably less so than the Sun Belt states. Moreover, whereas the growth in the Midwest is largely concentrated in cities and suburbs, minority populations in the Sun Belt have grown in rural areas.

All of this could explain why the Midwest has been trending redder as the Sun Belt has trended bluer. White baby boomers in the region are seeing their populations declining while receiving less cultural exposure to minority groups.

But as Axios notes, the same factors driving this phenomenon could ultimately cause it to collapse.

"Baby boomers grew up in an era where America was mostly white, and the biggest racial minority was African Americans who were still mostly segregated," said the Brookings Institution's Bill Frey. "Millennials and post-millennials are much more open to diversity and integration." And eventually, their political power will become dominant.