Polls from the Past: Which regional reputations in the U.S. have persisted and which have evolved

Linley SandersData Journalist
January 24, 2023, 3:33 PM GMT+0

Updated 1/26/2023

The United States is split into four regions that each carry different reputations among Americans. Decades-old stereotypes for each of the four Census-defined regions — the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West — include some that have changed with time and others that remain the same today.

To explore how public opinion has changed over the decades, YouGov uses the Roper iPoll Archive to find historical poll questions that could be re-asked today, as part of a series called Polls from the Past. In a series of questions modeled after a 1983 Roper Organization poll, YouGov asked Americans to choose the region of the country that fits each of 19 descriptions — including the most cosmopolitan part of the country and the friendliest. Here are seven findings from a June YouGov poll, all based on Americans in 1983 and 2022 with an opinion on which of these attributes applied to each region:

  1. The U.S. region perceived as having the highest cost of living: the Northeast

In 1983, Americans were split between whether the Northeast (44%) or the West (45%) deserved the title of the region of the United States with the highest cost of living. According to the 2022 YouGov poll, that category is now much less competitive. Three in five Americans (62%) say that the Northeast has the highest cost of living, and just 27% say the Western region of the country does.

  1. Perception of the Northeast as the most dangerous part of the country has declined

The Northeast was seen as the most dangerous part of the country in 1983 — with 51% of Americans with an opinion naming it as the most unsafe region. Just 24% say the same today. More than one-third (36%) of Americans with an opinion see the South as being the most dangerous region today — up from 14% in 1983.

  1. The part of the country with the best weather? The West

The Western part of the country has kept its reputation as the region with the best weather: 42% say that today, compared to 48% in 1983. Just 36% say that the South deserves that title, down slightly from 40% in 1983. The Northeast has gained a bit more of a reputation for good weather (10% in 2022 say it has the best weather, up from 4% in 1983).

  1. The region where people are friendliest: the South, then and now

Just as many Americans view the South as having the most friendly people today (47%) as did in 1983. The Midwestern region has slightly increased its reputation for being friendly (30% today, up from 22% in 1983) and the share who say the West is friendliest has slightly decreased (15% today, down from 21% in 1983).

  1. The most cosmopolitan part of the country: the Northeast, then and now

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) viewed the Northeast region as the most cosmopolitan part of the country in 1983. A majority of Americans (59%) today agree that the Northeast still deserves that title, with only marginal shifts toward any other region.

  1. The region where people want to vacation: the West or South

For people taking a vacation, the West has always been a popular destination. Half of Americans in 1983 said the West came to mind for a trip, but just 39% say that today. Instead, the South has grown in reputation as a spot for travel: 34% say today that it's top of mind for a vacation, up from 27% in 1983.

  1. What region do the people who run the country come from? The Northeast, then and now

The Northeast region has held its 1983 reputation for being the home of people who "run things," with slightly fewer people saying that today (47% today, down from 51%). Perhaps that makes a bit more sense today, as the current and previous presidents both come from the Northeast. In 1983, the president was Ronald Reagan, who was from the West — a region that just 19% of people said came to mind when they thought about the people who run things.

Explore more of Americans' opinions today about what region best fits into 19 different categories:

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs for this YouGov poll conducted on June 17 - 20, 2022 and explore more Polls from the Past

Image: Adobe Stock