SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — As Super Tuesday gets closer and closer, politics are bound to come up around your dinner table, and it’s easy to focus on what divides us on the big issues.
In the Pioneer Valley, there’s one long-standing political divide between Hampshire and Hampden County.
It’s called the ‘Tofu Curtain’ and Western Mass News is raising it, to see if the us-vs-them mentality still exists in 2020.
The ‘Tofu Curtain’ describes the difference between political ideology.
The invisible curtain lies along the Hampden and the Hampshire County line.
As folklore has it, those in Hampshire County tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic and Progressive, one might even say “left-wing”.
Those in Hampden County, tend to be more centrist.
So somewhere along the line, someone joked about it, and it became well-known enough to have it’s own Wikipedia page, but here in 2020, Western Mass News wanted to see if people still feel that divide, and know about the ‘Tofu Curtain’ or if the modern age of politics has raised the ‘Tofu Curtain’ once and for all.
[I’m trying to do a story about politics in western Massachusetts and I was wondering have you ever heard of the ‘Tofu Curtain’ before?]
“What is it? The ‘Tofu Curtain’? No,” Resident said.
Though this voter didn’t know the term
“No not at all,” Northampton resident said.
He did speak to some of the cliches, the ‘Tofu Curtain’ is based on.
“Northampton’s a wild place I can tell you that much,” Northampton Resident noted.
To break down the concept, Western Mass News spoke with Julie Walsh, a political science professor at American International College.
“There’s such a clearly defined boundary between these two counties that, that’s probably what caused it to stick,” Walsh said.
Though the ‘Tofu Curtain’ does make the distinction between progressive politics and centrist, Walsh said both counties are supportive of the democratic party.
“65 to 70% that vote democrat up there and it’s about 55% here,” Walsh said.
And Walsh said the intellectual and affluent label on Hampshire county voters, as well as the working-class one for Hampden, are really just that, with more depth underneath.
“This is a stereotype. Hampshire county has I think a 13% poverty rate I think about 50% of the children in Amherst get subsidies for lunches so it isn’t, it isn’t this sharp divide,” Walsh explained.
More than anything, Walsh said the ‘Tofu Curtain’…
“All these vegan, vegetarian folks,” Walsh said.
…shows how communities prioritize issues when it comes to the ballot box.
“There are differences in what are the most important issues to each, each of those groups,” Walsh noted.
Anthony Cignoli is a political consultant and analyst, who’s seen how the ‘Tofu Curtain’ affects elections, both statewide and national.
“Hampshire, Franklin they went with Bernie Sanders, but Hampden County went with Hillary Clinton in 2016 an excellent example of how sometimes on the bigger issues the counties will split right along the lines of the tofu curtain,” Cignoli explained.
Cignoli said Hampden County voters tend to vote on issues that directly affect their communities…
“Hampden County is often more of a local common person mindset certainly in the north, legislators are fighting for their own districts and their constituents, but they’re thinking big picture often as well,’ Cignoli explained.
He told us some of those big picture issues involve climate change and social reforms and as involved as Hampshire County can be on grassroots activism…
“Hampden County will outvote all the rest of the counties combined often in statewide races,” Cignoli noted.
But in the 2020 race, Cignoli said one thing unites the Hampden and Hampshire counties more than anything else.
“They want to see Donald Trump gone,” Cignoli noted.
[Any Super Tuesday predictions you’re willing to share?]
“It’s tough to call. You’d have to absolutely assume that Elizabeth Warren, as long as she does well in New Hampshire and Iowa beforehand is going to prevail,” Cignoli said.
Only time will tell how the ‘Tofu Curtain’ will affect the 2020 Presidential Election, but in all races in the future, the experts warn those political stereotypes can do more harm than good and that maybe it’s time for the ‘Tofu Curtain’ to take its final bow.
“I do think there’s vested interest in trying to get people to think of politics more as an association with a lifestyle choice and then it’s easier, to divorce the real issues from peoples minds and get people to sometimes affiliate with a position that might not be in their economic best interest,” Cignoli said.