People from blue states like California typically don’t think “Alabama” when looking to plan a beach getaway. And most tourists visiting Alabama's expansive, white-sand beaches either come from Alabama or from Trump-supporting states, according to recent data. But just why that is likely comes down to undue stereotyping more than anything else.
The trend in Alabama's beach goers doesn't just relate to Alabama tourism, but to the deep (and seemingly deepening) divides between people across political lines in the U.S. More than half of Democrats are wary of conservatives, according to Pew Research Center data, and 68 percent of Republicans think Democrats are "harmful" to the country. The local Alabama news site AL.com explores this issue in a recent, detailed piece on Alabama tourism and partisanship.
But as political science professor Richard Fording of the University of Alabama told AL.com, those divides often exist solely in people's heads.
"People in Alabama and California are not as different as the people in each state tend to think . . . There are a lot of conservatives and liberals in each state—just somewhat more of the former in Alabama and somewhat more of the latter in California," he said.
The Alabama state tourism department would agree, and wants to change its beachgoing demographics. But as it stands, the state’s tourists are largely defined by their political preferences, as shown on a summer 2014 map created for the tourism arm of the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area of Alabama.
As AL.com reports, “Alabama residents are the top visitors to the beaches of its own state, but other states follow suit, and almost all of them backed Trump: Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The only outliers are the Clinton states of Illinois and Maryland.”
According to coastal Alabama tourism officials, the people who do visit the state’s beaches like what they find, as 97 percent of respondents to a Gulf Shores and Orange Beach query said they would return, AL.com reports.
Writing for the New York Times recently, W. Kamau Bell, a CNN host, stated, "If there ever was a time that we all should take a trip to the other parts of America and spend some time to get to know people there, it is now. So, who wants to come with me to Orange Beach?"
Bell noted that people in the U.S. might realize these divides are often just psychological, if they spent some time outside of their respective comfort zones.
"It is one of my enduring frustrations with this country," he wrote. "People live in their part of the Union, and if they don't travel a lot, then there is a tendency to believe that the other parts of America couldn't possibly be as American as their part."