2012 was a good year for liberals, Democrats and President Obama alike, and the data gives us some insight as to why. Gallup's annual "state of the states" series indicates that many US states saw a year over year ideological shift from 2011. It points to a modest increases in the number of self described liberals largely at the expense of their fellow conservative citizens. In what has been a consistent trend over the past decade however conservatives still outnumber both liberals and moderates.
Alabama is the most conservative state in America and the only one where a bare majority (50.6%) of its citizens affiliate with that political ideology. With at least 48% conservatives the next four most heavily right-leaning states are North Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi and Utah. The top-ten is then rounded out by Oklahoma (47.3%), Idaho (47.1%), Louisiana (45.6%), Nebraska (45.3%) and Arkansas (45.3%). The last two Republican presidential nominees - John McCain & Mitt Romney - carried every single one of these states in the 2008 & 2012 elections. Romney fared particularly well in heavily conservative territory outdistancing President Obama by an average of 26.9-percentage points in each of the aforementioned states.
On the liberal side the District of Columbia is not surprisingly the most heavily left-leaning area of the country with 40.8% of its residents affiliating as such. A steep drop to the second position and the most liberal state of Massachusetts where 30.5% of its citizens label themselves is liberal. At over 29% both Oregon and Vermont are virtually identical, as are Delaware, Connecticut, Washington State, and Rhode Island composed of more than 28% liberals. Rounding out the top-ten are Hawaii and New York, tied at 27.7%.
Not surprisingly Barack Obama carried all ten of the most heavily liberal states in both 2008 and 2012 by crushing margins. Excluding his record setting performances in the District of Columbia over the past two election cycles, Obama's average margin of victory in the nine most liberal states was by 22-points in 2012.
Gallup is quick to point out that there is not perfect correlation between a state's political ideology, its party affiliation, and who it necessarily votes for President. Three of the ten most Republican leaning states according to the polling firm - Alaska, Kansas, Montana - do not crack the top-ten list of most conservative. Accordingly both Illinois and Maryland rank as two of the top-ten most Democratic states but do not make the list of most liberal. Oregon and Washington meanwhile are two of the ten most liberal but not most loyally Democratic states.
Gallup finds that America is the most liberal and least conservative that it has been in the past five years, although not radically so. 38% of adults now identify as conservative, with 23% saying they're liberal. An additional 36% label themselves "moderate". The list of most moderate US states is an interesting one. Alaska (42.7%) is heavily right leaning and hasn't voted for a Democratic President since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Second place Rhode Island (41.5%) is one the most heavily blue states in the country and one carried by Obama by 27.5% in the 2012 election. Ohio (39.5%) meanwhile is the classic battleground state having voted for every winning Presidential candidate since 1964 and calling it wrong only twice since 1896. Seven out of the remaining ten states on the list of moderates tend to lean Democratic in terms of voting patterns. Only Montana, that was carried narrowly by John McCain in 2008 and solidly by Mitt Romney in 2012, has voted Republican in the past two elections.
Lastly Gallup takes a look at the numerical margins between conservatives and liberals in each state. With conservatives holding a fifteen-point edge on liberals nationwide it's not surprising to see that they also hold a statistical edge in 48 of 51 states (including DC). Only the District of Columbia (20.3%), Massachusetts (2.2%) and Rhode Island (0.5%) are composed of more liberals citizens than conservatives. That said every state with a conservative edge of less than 19.5-percentage points voted for Barack Obama in the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.
The least liberal of the 'blue' states is Iowa (20.2% conservative edge), whereas the most liberal of the 'red' states is Arizona (19.5%). The most conservative state to vote for Democrat Obama in 2012 was also Iowa and, accordingly, the most liberal to vote for Republican Romney in the last election was Arizona.