Home > News > Ranking states by the liberalism/conservatism of their voters
136 views 3 min 0 Comment

Ranking states by the liberalism/conservatism of their voters

- June 30, 2008

Here’s a graph of the 50 states (actually, I think Alaska and Hawaii are missing), showing the average economic and social ideology of adults within each state. Each of these is scaled so that negative numbers are liberal and positive are conservative; thus, people in Massachusetts are the most liberal on economic issues and people in Idaho are the most conservative:


West Virginians are on the liberal side economically but are extremely socially conservative, whereas Vermont is about the same as West Virginian on the economic dimension but is the most socially liberal of all the states. Coloradans are economically conservative (on average) but socially moderate (or, perhaps, socially divided; these are averages only).

How do these rankings fit with our usual rankings of states? Here’s a plot showing average economic and social ideology for each state, plotted vs. George W. Bush’s vote share in 2000:


Democrats and Republicans separately

The next step is to break these voters down into Democrats and Republicans (based on self-reported party identification and following the usual practice among political scientists of throwing the “leaners” into the regular party categories). In the graph below, each state is shown twice: the avg social and economic ideologies of Democrats in the state are shown in blue, the avgs for Republicans in red.


We made these graphs during the primary election season, and one thing we noticed was that South Carolina (“SC”) is in the middle of the pack among Democrats and among Republicans, but it’s one of the most conservative states overall. My take on this: South Carolina is a strongly Republican state, and the moderates in South Carolina are likely to identify as Republican. This pulls the Republican average to the left (as they includes the moderates) and also pulls the Democratic average to the left (as they are not including so many moderates).

But the big thing we see from the graph immediately above is that Democrats are much more liberal than Republicans on the economic dimension: Democrats in the most conservative states are still much more liberal than Republicans in even the most liberal states. On social issues there is more overlap (although in any given state, the average Republican is more conservative than the average Democrat).

Details on data

David Park and I made these graphs from the Annenberg pre-election survey from 2000 (with its huge sample size), creating indexes based on issue opinions, giving each respondent an economic and social ideology score. We scaled these so that each had a national average of 0 and standard deviation of 0.5. (We used these scales in our Red State, Blue State book, but these particular graphs never made it into the book.)


Yes, I know the graphs could be better. We made them a few months ago and haven’t organized them into any final form.