Oregon's electorate: the most liberal liberals; the most conservative conservatives

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

We've got a whole lot of folks around the country who are learning about Oregon politics right now -- and trying to figure out what-the-hell we're all about. After all, we decriminalized marijuana, but passed a gay-marriage ban. We'll let you get a doctor's help to commit suicide, but we won't let you pump your own gas. And despite our well-deserved reputation as a liberal enviro-paradise, Al Gore and John Kerry both struggled to win narrowly here.

In short, is this a liberal state or a swing state? A blue state or a purple state?

The blog FiveThirtyEight.com - dedicated to the mathematics of presidential politics - has some answers to that question. (Or as they put it, "Oregon: Swing State or latte-drinking, Prius-driving lesbian commune?")

There are two ways to be a swing state. One is to have a lot of moderates. That doesn't really describe Oregon; a moderate state like Ohio would never pass an assisted suicide law. The other way is to have both a lot of conservatives and a lot of liberals, who happen to roughly balance one another out. Oregon is one such state.

Digging into the math, they explain that Oregon's Kerry voters were the most liberal Kerry voters in the country; while Oregon's Bush voters were the most conservative Bush voters in the country:

Exit polls from 2004 contain a basic question about the ideology (conservative/liberal/moderate) of each voter. We can apply a Likert scale to these responses, assigning 10 points to every liberal, 5 to every moderate, and 0 to every conservative. We will call this result a Liberalness Score. The average voter in Oregon has a Liberalness Score of 4.65, which ties it with Minnesota as the 13th most liberal state in the country. (Massachusetts is the most liberal state at 5.65, and Utah the most conservative at 3.30. Note that only a handful of states have a rating above 5 -- that is, have more self-identified liberals than conservatives.)

But here's where it gets interesting. The average Kerry voter nationwide had a Liberalness Score of 6.20 -- just slightly left of center. However, in Oregon, the average Kerry voter was a 7.17. This, as it happens, is the highest score in the country; the Kerry voters in Oregon were more liberal than the ones in Vermont (7.11) or even the District of Columbia (6.97).

Meanwhile, the average Bush voter nationwide had a Liberalness Score of 2.58 -- pretty darn conservative. But in Oregon, the average Bush voter was a 2.01 -- very conservative. And guess what? That is the lowest Liberalness Score for Bush voters anywhere in the country. The Bush voters in Oregon were as conservative as the ones in Tennessee (2.02) or Utah (2.15).

So, we're a swing state with deep shades of red and blue... and not much purple.

Head on over to FiveThirtyEight.com for a bunch of charts that explain it all - plus more context about all of this. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

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