Skip to Content

Play in Peoria

To “play in Peoria” is a phrase meaning how well something will appeal to the heartland or mainstream America.

Peoria is an actual city in Illinois. The expression has its roots in the vaudeville era, a time when Peoria, Illinois, was seen as a typical midwestern city that captured the essence of Middle America.

If a show could succeed in Peoria, it was believed that it could succeed anywhere. Peoria’s audiences were considered representative of average Americans, and their reactions were seen as a litmus test for broader success.

The phrase is seen as a gauge of how the average American — perhaps someone like John Q. Public — will react to a policy or proposal from a politician.

Essentially, if a political idea or campaign message can “play in Peoria,” it is thought to resonate with ordinary Americans, regardless of regional idiosyncrasies or partisan divides.

President Richard Nixon popularized the phrase in political circles.

He would ask how something would “play in Peoria” to ask how the average voter would respond to whatever he was planning.

In an era of increasingly polarized politics, the idea behind this phrase takes on additional significance.

It serves as a reminder that successful politics often requires reaching beyond one’s base to connect with a wider audience.

Use of “Play in Peoria” in a sentence

  • The senator’s new healthcare proposal might be popular among his party’s base, but the real test is whether it will play in Peoria, resonating with middle-of-the-road voters across the country.
  • Before launching the national campaign, the political strategist suggested testing the messaging in a few key heartland cities to see if it would play in Peoria, ensuring that it would connect with average Americans.
  • The candidate’s unconventional views might attract media attention, but many in the campaign worried whether such ideas would play in Peoria, appealing to the broader electorate that would ultimately decide the election.