5 Most Liberal States in America

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Jerry Patterson, a candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, told the Associated Press in 2013 that instead of a Lone Star State secession, he favors “liberal states,” such as California and New York, being expelled from the Union. More recently, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proclaimed in an interview that “conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapons, anti-gay … have no place in the state of New York.” How did we get to this place, where many of our states are so sharply divided between conservatives and liberals? Sure, there are liberals in Texas, conservatives in New York … but given Patterson’s comments, who could blame liberals for thinking twice before moving to Texas. But where could these people go to find a utopia full of like-minded people? We looked at a range of state-by-state surveys and statistics that cover issues such as church attendance, gun ownership, tax rates, union membership and other criteria. That said, here’s our take on the five most liberal/progressive states in the U.S.

 

5. Hawaii

Hawaii boasts one of the most unionized workforces in the United States.

President Barack Obama takes a swim in his native Hawaii, which has a friendly climate for liberals; White House/Pete Souza

Church Attendance: 45th out of 50 states
Union Membership: 3rd out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 10th out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 49th out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: 8th (tie) most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: The state has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since entering the Union in 1959 except 1972 and 1984.
Bottom Line: It’s easy to forget that Hawaii, courtesy of its unique culture and geographic isolation, is just another state. And many conservative pundits likely want to forget (and ignore) the Aloha State, given that it swings well toward the left in terms of all the key “indicators” of political ideology. Plus, the state hails its role as the birthplace of one Barack Obama.

 

4. California

California's state politics are decidedly liberal, thanks to the influence of cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

With cities such as San Francisco ruling state politics, California is solidly in the progressive camp; Danish Dynamite via Flickr

Church Attendance: 37th (tie) out of 50 states
Union Membership: 6th out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 6th out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 45th out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: 10th (tie) most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: Democrats have a stronghold on state politics, and California has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate every year since 1992. And the state is home to progressive hero Nancy Pelosi.
Bottom Line: The state that had such a hand in creating the Church of Reagan, the man (and myth) that the GOP bows before, is also the very state where the actor-turned-president first began his political career … as a Democrat. It’s a state of political contrasts — many rural areas are overwhelmingly conservative, but the more liberal population centers in Southern California dominate state politics. Yet California not so long ago elected a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then there’s San Francisco, arguably the most liberal/progressive city in the United States. A very good state for progressives.

 

3. Vermont

Vermont has a strong progressive streak.

There are churches in Vermont, such as this one in Stowe, but Vermont is last in the U.S. in church attendance; Patrick Breen

Church Attendance: Ranks 50th out of 50 states
Union Membership: Ranks 23rd out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 15th out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 32nd out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: 3rd most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: Has voted Democrat in each presidential election since 1992. And let’s not forget Sen. Bernie Sanders (see below).
Bottom Line: Numbers only tell part of the story here. Vermont elected Bernie Sanders, the only self-described “Democratic Socialist” in the U.S. Senate — not to be confused, GOP, with “Communist,” “Marxist,” “Fascist” or other “ists”). Vermont is also home base for those hippie ice cream tycoons, Ben and Jerry. Vermont is the least “churched” of all the states and only Massachusetts and Oregon have more self-proclaimed liberals than the Green Mountain State.

 

2. Massachusetts

Massachusetts residents have a strong self-identification as liberals.

Union workers protest in Boston; Chase Carter

Church Attendance: 47th out of 50 states
Union Membership: 13th out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 4th out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 44th out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: No. 1 most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: Has voted for a Republican presidential candidate only two times since 1960, going for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
Bottom Line: The state that birthed the Democratic Camelot of the Kennedy family has been a reliably liberal stronghold for many years; in the 1972 presidential election, when Richard Nixon earned reelection by winning 49 states, Massachusetts was the lone state to cast its vote for liberal George McGovern. As some conservatives always like to cast aspersions on “intellectual liberals,” Massachusetts is home to MIT and Harvard, among other progressive universities.

 

1. New York

High taxes, high unionization and other factors make New York the most liberal state in America.

An Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011 in New York City; Adrian Kinloch

Church Attendance: 37th (tie) out of 50 states
Union Membership: No. 1 out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 3rd out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 48th out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: 8th (tie) most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: Has voted Democrat in each presidential election since 1976 except 1980, 1984. Residents in the more conservative western part of the state bemoan the heavy liberal influence of Albany and the New York City area.
Bottom Line: The Empire State does not disappoint those who live and die by political stereotypes; heavy unionization, high taxes and a distinctively anti-gun climate make this a progressive dream state. Even New York’s Republican-turned-independent, billionaire politicians (we’re looking at you, ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) are easily more “liberal” than the Dems of the so-called flyover states. Let’s not forget how Bloomberg gave us “Sodagate,” which had conservative commentators up in arms about how the “Nanny State” wanted to rob people of their freedom to drink themselves into a pre-diabetic condition via sugary sodas.

 

One More: New Jersey

Church Attendance: 33rd out of 50 states
Union Membership: 8th out of 50 states
State and Local Tax Burden: 2nd out of 50 states
Gun Ownership: 50th out of 50 states
Political Self-Identification: 12th most liberal out of 50 states
Politics: New Jersey has voted for the Democrat in each presidential election since 1992.
Bottom Line: Given the progressive climate in the Garden State, it’s no wonder that some conservatives take glee in labeling Gov. Chris Christie as a progressive and a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). After all, even before Christie had the audacity to be photographed with President Barack Obama in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, he presided over a state with a per capita tax rate almost 20 percent higher than in neighboring Massachusetts.

 

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5 Most Conservative States in America

 

References

• Church Attendance: Gallup Poll
• Union Membership*: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
* Union membership as percentage of employed
• State and Local Tax Burden Per Capita: TaxFoundation.org
• Political Self Identification: Gallup Poll
• Gun Ownership*: The Daily Beast
* Based on background checks through the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, per 100,000 residents.
• Politics, Presidential Elections in U.S. History: Wikipedia

Written by

Michelle Leach's love of writing has taken her to Sydney, Australia, London, U.K. and other exotic locations like Grand Island, Neb., and Clio, Mich. She has developed pieces for TV and radio stations, PR departments, newspapers and magazines. A graduate of Northwestern University and Lake Forest College (also in Illinois) she enjoys running marathons and likes to say when not writing, she’s running — but she tries not to mix the two activities.