Political Animal


February 22, 2012 8:30 AM ***States of Mind

By Ed Kilgore

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 PPP’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

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Pal2008 on February 22, 2012 8:49 AM:

    This year I decided against events, travel and lodging in AZ and TX. I've had all I can stand and I can't stands no more. I'll spend my vacation dollars on the left coast and I'll stay the hell away from any business hawking their conservative stripes. Noticed the car dealership where I used to have my vehicles serviced had a framed plaque for fund raising for John McCain. Nope, not gonna spend any more money where the profits go to the right wing fanatics.

  • Lucia on February 22, 2012 8:57 AM:

    Without looking at the poll, and just off the top of my head, my top five states would be (top down) Maine, Massachusetts, California, New York, Hawaii. Hawaii is the only one of those I've never visited; it makes the list because it's so gorgeous and its climate is so perfect, and I fantasize about winning the lottery and lying on a beach drinking mai tais for the rest of my life. (I presume everyone does.) My bottom five would be (bottom up) Texas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Alabama, Oklahoma. I'm going much more on stereotype there, having visited only Texas; those states all seem to have a good share of extreme bigots in their legislatures. Plus, as far as I can tell, North Dakota is just plain cold.

    I'd say I'm middling liberal. Now off to read the survey.

  • Tom Nicholson on February 22, 2012 9:07 AM:

    When I think of California, I think of the huge old growth forests that used to flourish there.

    New Jersey has the Pinelands (absolutely timeless).

    Hawaii has my heart since my mother was birthed there as was I.

    New York is my home now.

    Washington has the Cascades. I met my wife there and conceived my first born in the mountains.

    Indiana has beautiful country.

    Pennsylvania has Philadelphia, the city where I spent my

    We are drawn to ourselves.

  • beyond left on February 22, 2012 9:13 AM:

    Doesn't surprise me that my state (CO) is second. Its a great place if you avoid the fundies in CO Springs. Overall people are very friendly here and the recreational activities are great. People come here because they like to be active outside. Don't tell anyone. Everyone who migrated here wants to shut the door so no more people come here.
    "You can visit now and then,
    bring your money bring your friends,
    bring your campers and you Winnebagos too...
    Bring your festivals and dope,
    and we all sincerely hope,
    you don't forget to leave when you get through..."

    Colorado's unofficial state song....

  • Speed on February 22, 2012 9:21 AM:

    I wish people truly did hate California; maybe they'd stop moving here. And start moving out.

  • chopin on February 22, 2012 9:23 AM:

    I've lived in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Maryland and Texas and loved them all. I currently call 10 wooded acres in Colorado home and what's not to love about that? I was drawn to the fact that the charts for Colorado were clustered around favorable and undecided as opposed to love it or leave it. Is it possible there are yet that many people out there who haven't been here? Bring your cameras, folks. I also noticed how evenly balanced the demographics for Colorado were. Hispanics loved this place in nearly the same proportions as whites and the same was true regardless of age or political affiliation. That's a good metaphor for life - quality of life can be found in balance. Selah.

  • Mudge on February 22, 2012 9:27 AM:

    Conservatives love to hate. What else is new?

  • Don K on February 22, 2012 9:30 AM:

    That song reminds me of a 70's joke: "the definition of a Colorado environmentalist is someone who built his A-frame in the mountains last year".

    In no particular order, I'd guess my top ten are:
    HA, CA, OR, WA, CO, UT, MI, VT, MA, IL

    Bottom ten?
    TX, MS, AL, SC, KS, NE, IN, ND, SD, OK

  • Remus Shepherd on February 22, 2012 9:34 AM:

    South Dakota ranks so high because it's a hunter's destination. They get hundreds of thousands of people flying in for every hunting season.

    The humungous Sturgis Bike Rally might be a factor as well.

  • jomo on February 22, 2012 9:35 AM:

    Poor Jersey. The butt of jokes since Colonial days. But as a result, towns comparably nice to Connecticut and Westchester are much more affordable. Can be at the beach or the mountains in 45 minutes. Wish Christie would invest in infrastructure though. Getting so bad I may have to move.

  • pol on February 22, 2012 9:40 AM:

    I love Virginia. I hate the politics, but absolutely love the history of the state. Did I tell you I live there?

  • Don K on February 22, 2012 9:48 AM:

    By the way, I'm a little shocked there wasn't more of a negative reaction among conservatives towards my home state of Michigan based on (in no particular order) unions, blacks, a decaying city or three, and the bad bailout.

    And my list was based on states where I could visualize myself living.

  • DAY on February 22, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Topping the list is my "State of Mind", because wherever I happen to be is terrific.

  • Trollop on February 22, 2012 9:53 AM:

    I think Joni Mitchell summed up California the most romantically (and still does for me). Although the state is chock-full of conservative, self-entitled (asshole) implants from other states, we're doing quite pretty well considering the current budget debacle and the lack of any state or national mental health money (potentially a "good" place to start with "entitlement" as we have a bunch of people who live under bridges), not that any conservative types are concerned about "those people".. Don't get me wrong, I migrated as well but I have no love for Ronald Reagan nor mindless opportunism followed up by scapegoating when things ultimately get fucked up by the mindless opportunists.

  • seriously on February 22, 2012 10:01 AM:

    The cross tab I'd like to see is location of the respondent. West Virginians, for instance, often have a low opinion of Ohioans (flatlanders who can't drive on our mountain highways); Virginians look down on West Virginians (hillbillies, the "poor relations"). People from south Jersey and people from Philadelphia are equally convinced that the other are inept fools, again often based on how they drive. Do Oklahomans and Texans look down on one another, or is that just a college football thing? Coloradans, I believe, often have a bad opinion of Texans, based on their perceived behavior at ski resorts. There are probably many more examples, although this kind of thing is highly anecdotal.

  • $2Bill on February 22, 2012 10:27 AM:

    Ca. is resented by many who feel it receives a disproportionate amount of national media coverage. What happens in L.A., S.F., & Sacto often makes the news while what happens in Cheyenne, Omaha, or Wheeling never does. Evidence of liberal bias in the MSM for those who look at a U.S. map & view all states as equally worthy. If that same map were drawn using measures of population & economic power in relation to other states Ca.'s status as a world class heavyweight would be more evident & its newsworthiness more clearly proportionate.

  • SYSPROG on February 22, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Basically, I am staying out of any state with a right wing crazy agenda...not one penny for them in tourist dollars. So I'm staying out of Texas, OK, IN, VA, AZ and Ohio...probably out of FL too. Luckily, I'm in the glorious NW where the country is beautiful and the politics are blue. We have a place in VT so I guess I can always do a flyover and make sure we land in CT and not NH. Ah choices...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 22, 2012 10:30 AM:

    Black voters dislike 10 of the 14 Southern states.

    Really, now. You don't say...

    What's really funny is that none of the states--except Hawaii--managed to crack the 50% threshold on favorability (52%) among Blacks. NC (my home state--Yeah!) cracked 42% Favorable, followed by TN, VA, FL, and MD (in the South--if you consider MD the South). So basically most Blacks said they didn't like the state in question, or they just weren't sure what to think (with a heavy showing in the latter group).

    I like visiting the South and I wouldn't mind relocating further South (I'm originally from NC, college in PA, currently living in MD), but only if it's in or near a large cosmopolitan city. I grew up in the sticks east of I-95 and always hated NC because of that limited exposure. But west of the Interstate--oh, my!--it's so nice and modern over there!!! The South can be palatable as long as we Black folk don't stray too far from the Big City and into the boondocks.

  • Tired Liberal on February 22, 2012 10:30 AM:

    Much as I hate the conservative political climate of South Dakota, tent camping vacations in the Black Hills and the Badlands are among my most cherished memories of raising my family.

  • Jeff on February 22, 2012 10:42 AM:

    I'll vouch for South Dakota as a cool place to visit. Went there over Labor Day weekend in 2009 and took 4 tours @ Jewel & Wind Cave (which may indeed connect) ... Jewel Cave's formation room is absolutely incredible and you'll see plenty of bats on a lantern tour @ Wind Cave. The Wind Cave lantern tour was led by a park ranger who was dressed in 1930s garb. At the start of the tour he said, "I support the President's stimulus plan" ... before discussing what FDR was doing to put people back to work (WPA/Civilian Conservation Corps). It was a neat way to connect a current debate to our own history. The Badlands are spectacular and it's a fabulous place to go stargazing. Throw in Custer State Park with its pronghorn and bison and it's well worth a three day trip. If I had the choice, I'd rather live close to the Tetons & Yellowstone -- yet another state that is politically bonkers but home to beautiful scenery & wildlife. Throw New Mexico & Arizona into the mix -- you don't go there for the people, you go there for the parks.

  • Jes on February 22, 2012 10:47 AM:

    what the survey tells me road trips are not as common anymore.Too bad.most states had an unknown as the biggest qualifier.I live in Minn.It is beautiful with 15,000+ lakes ,the BWCA in the boreal forest,Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.Yeah it gets cold,put on more clothes.Summer is gorgeous,my city of Minneapolis with our lakes and gardens is the best

  • MCA1 on February 22, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Bottom five: Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma. All have great things about them, but are some combination of unjustly full of themselves and insufferably reactionary (and not in a clownish, hard to take seriously way like Alabama or Mississippi, but in a pernicious, influencing national politics and culture sort of way) that it's more than enough to overcome the good things. Contrast to Alaska, home of a thousand kooks, but that Palin/Stevens crazification is so overwhelmed by the natural beauty it's in my top 5. So, what I'm saying, I guess, is that Ohio needs a lot more salmon fishing and Texas more national parks. FWIW, Texas is so far ahead of everyone on this list that it will likely never be eclipsed.

    Top 7 (can't decide on the last two in): Minnesota and in no particular order California, Michigan, Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois and North Carolina.

  • rdale on February 22, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Interesting that Utah, where I live, is at the bottom. Yes, it's a great tourist destination if you want to visit a national park or ski. But it's also ruled, and I mean ruled, by an extreme right-wing clique of theocrats that openly boast of their hate for the Federal government. The governor's facebook post about Obama has already made a national blog, and the legislature, currently in session, is ignoring education, pollution, crime, poverty, anything else so they can pass "middle finger to the feds" message bills. Look for Chip Ward's article titled "Welcome to Glenbeckistan" for an idea of what it's like here and why the state is hated by the rest of the country (which the theocrats will just point to with pride; we're also the petri dish for whatever poison ALEC decides to try out).

  • cwolf on February 22, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Did someone actually pay for this poll?
    What a pile of drivel.

  • Marmot on February 22, 2012 1:18 PM:

    This is really a survey about national stereotypes, so it's interesting to note the extent to which conservatives go with their knee-jerk impressions. Actually, it pretty much defines them.

    It's a bit bracing to see how many liberals do the same, but thankfully that broad-brush unthinkingness is less prevalent.

    Sadly, I'm familiar with that mindset. I'm a very liberal Texan--if you glance at an election results map rather than only consulting your prejudices, you'll see a blue band across the bottom of TX, and blue spots on each of the cities. Like the rest of the nation, red land in TX is rural, more homogeneous, and somewhat lower in income and education.

    But the state looms large in the nightmares of otherwise reasonable people as an all-red hell. Who knows why? For every GW Bush, TX has produced a Barbara Jordan or a Molly Ivins. Or LBJ. When I lived in NYC, people genuinely winced when I told them where I was from, expecting that I was grateful to have escaped. (I was pleased to discover New Yorkers were much friendlier than their reputation. Though more provincial.)

    At the bottom of my list are Southern California and Central Ohio. I've lived in both, and nowhere else have I encountered more unfriendly and downright unsociable attitudes. And sheer ignorance. Think TX's rural wingnuts are bad? At least they have an excuse--you'll find the same level of hateful-crazy in sheltered suburban Orange County, but with more power. (it's a beautiful state, though!)

  • BJ on February 23, 2012 12:16 AM:

    This is bizarre. What's not to like about Minnesota? Why is Illinois at the bottom? I've been to all of the states but ME, NH, VT and AK (and maybe OK - can't really remember but seems like I must have) and I don't really have much of an opinion about most of them. Favorites include CA,HI,NM,MT,MN,WI,IA.