How Do Americans Rank Different States? And How Much Does Politics Have To Do With It?

Public Policy Polling, as is its habit, has a cool, unconventional poll up on its site right now, measuring the favorable/unfavorable ratios of the 50 American states.

Overall, it shows (in order) Hawaii, Colorado, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Virginia on top, and (in reverse order) California, Illinois, New Jersey, Mississippi and Utah at the bottom. The last five states are the only ones with net negative ratios (though Louisiana is close with a tie).

I have to say, some of these findings are surprising. Certainly Hawaii and Colorado are popular tourism destinations, but so, too, are California (dead last) and Utah, and sixth-from-the-bottom Louisiana. I have no clue why South Dakota ranks so high, unless Mount Rushmore is way cooler than I've imagined and Americans really like extreme weather.

You have to wonder, of course, what respondents think of when they are asked their opinion of a particular state. Is it a specific city they might have visited? A historic event that happened there? A cultural stereotype? A political association? Is South Carolina (ranked 31st) "about" Charleston, Spartanburg, or Ft. Sumter? When people think of "California," is it "about" Bakersfield or Berkeley (two places about as different as Seattle and Sylacauga)? (For that matter, Monterey and Salinas, separated by just 17 miles across the Lettuce Curtain, are vastly different in demography, culture, politics, economics, and often even weather). Is California Ronald Reagan or Jerry Brown? Hollywood or Redwoods? Summer of Love or Winter of Perpetual Political Discontent?

You can wander around PPI's crosstabs from this survey for many hours, but the factor that does jump out is political ideology. California's dismal ranking is basically driven by its heavily negative ratings from people self-identifying as "very conservative" (10/74) and "somewhat conservative" (12/65). Texas, ranking 38th, draws ratings nearly that dismal from self-identified liberals (22/56 among "very liberal" folk, and 17/59 among "somewhat liberal" respondents), but that's offset by the ecstatic opinion of the Lone Star State among conservatives (62/9 for the "somewhat conservative;" 68/7 for the "very conservative"). Basically, conservatives love TX and hate CA more intensely than liberals feel about either.

Those of you with the early-morning time and energy to do so are invited to look at the survey, and tell the rest of us your impressions--or for that matter, your own prejudices about the states--in the comment thread


Washington Monthly / By Ed Kilgore | Sourced from

Posted at February 22, 2012, 3:12am

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