Americans have strong opinions on the best and worst states in the country, but a YouGov analysis finds that (like many parts of the country’s discourse) many of the stances are driven by partisanship.
YouGov recently ran a survey to find the best and worst states, according to Americans. We asked people to choose the better of two states in a series of head-to-head matchups. States are rated based on their “win percentage”, that is: how often that state won the head-to-head matchup when it was one of the two states shown.
Some results left readers with questions: for example, how did some large states with equally large reputations (e.g., Texas, ranked 10th and California, ranked 12th) land lower than anticipated?
YouGov finds a prominent reason is partisan disagreement: Democrats tend to think states that voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election are best, while Republicans favor states that voted for their ticket.
The best and worst states, according to Democrats
Hawaii won 80% of its matchups when shown to Democrats, closely followed by California (79%), Oregon (73%), Virginia (71%), and Colorado (70%). Every state in Democrats’ top 17 voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election — the first departure comes with North Carolina, which narrowly went for Donald Trump, but had a win percentage of 55% among liberals.
Democrats consider the worst states to be Iowa (31%), North Dakota (28%), Mississippi (27%), Alabama (27%), and Arkansas (25%). Each state in Democrats’ bottom 20 voted for Trump in the presidential election. The lowest-ranked state among Democrats that voted blue in 2020 is Arizona (51%-win percentage).Washington, D.C. is the notable outlier among Democrats. This could be due to respondents rejecting D.C. as “not a state” in an exercise about “which state is better,” or it could represent a disdain for the political system it represents. Washington, D.C. won 45% of its matchups among Democrats, compared to 35% for Americans overall.
You can hover over the dots in the figures below to show which state each refers to.
The best and worst states, according to Republicans
Republicans tended to favor states that voted for the GOP in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans picked Florida as the best state 82% of the time it was shown to them, followed by Arizona (70%), Alaska (68%), Kentucky (68%), and Texas (67%). Many states in Republicans’ top six voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, with Arizona narrowly going for Biden.The worst states according to Republicans include Massachusetts (33%), Oregon (32%), Wisconsin (31%), New Jersey (29%). The worst state according to Republicans is California (24% win-rate). Washington D.C., which is not a state — despite Democrats’ recent efforts — ranked below them all (19%).
Where Republicans and Democrats differ the most
But a more telling metric may be the difference between Democrats' and Republicans’ ratings. How much more did one party favor a state than the other party? The graphic below shows how much higher the win percentage was among people of that party.
For example, California’s win percentage was 79% among Democrats, but 24% among Republicans, a difference of 55 percentage points. Likewise, Kentucky’s win percentage was 68% among Republicans, only 34% among Democrats, for a difference in 35 points (one point off due to rounding).
See the difference in scores for Republicans and Democrats for all 50 states below:
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Methodology: 1,211 US adults were asked to choose the better of two states from a list of the 50 US states and Washington, D.C. in a series of head-to-head matchups. The poll's introductory text stated, "On each of the next few pages, you will see the names of two states in the US. On each page, we would like you to select the state that you think is the better state. You will see 7 different match-ups between states.” On each page, they saw two states with the prompt: “Which of the following states is better?” Each respondent saw seven matchups, and no respondent saw a state twice. Data was weighted to be nationally representative of all US Adults, 18+. The survey was conducted between March 12 - 15, 2021.