Gallup's annual look at how conservative or liberal each state is offers no surprises at the top: Dick Cheney's Wyoming is most conservative; President Obama's D.C. the least. Diving into the data, though, we see that "conservative" is a more popular label — and that it didn't make much difference in 2012.
The polling firm collects data on political attitudes annually, tracking presidential approval, party affiliation, and political philosophy over time. "Americans were much more likely to self-identify as conservatives than as liberals" in 2013, Gallup found, "though that gap shrank from previous years." The map at right shows the gap; the darker the green color, the more likely people in the state were to identify as conservatives versus liberals. The national gap last year was 14.6, meaning that the percentage of people in America who identify as conservative was 14.6 points higher than the percentage that identify as liberals. In 2012, the spread was 15.9.
What's really interesting is looking at how this new data compares to how we think about politics.
How Obama's approval rating compares to his 2012 results
We took the margin of victory Obama saw in each state in 2012 and compared it to his current net approval. In other words: How strongly the state felt about him in 2012 versus how much it likes him now.
On the map below, bluer states have become more receptive to Obama since 2012. Redder states have become less fond of him.
At first blush, it's surprising: Texas likes Obama better than it did in 2012? Well, Texas went pretty heavily for Romney and now only has mixed feelings about the president. The opposite effect works for Hawaii — its 2012 fervor has cooled a bit, but it still strongly approves of his job performance.
How likely conservatives are to be Republicans
We also looked at how voters' philosophical identity lined up with their party registration. You'd probably assume a near one-to-one match, with conservatives being registered as Republicans. That varies widely.
In Arkansas, there are more conservatives than Republicans. In North Dakota, there are far more Republicans than conservatives. That's in part because North Dakota has a higher percentage of moderates.
The relationship between a state's conservatives and its 2012 vote
So what does a state's likelihood to identify as conservatives have to do with its 2012 vote? After all, if the majority of states have more "conservatives" than "liberals," you'd think 2012 would have been a blow-out in the other direction.
The map below shows the state's conservative percentage plus Obama's 2012 margin, with higher numbers in darker red. One would expect this number to be near zero: the conservative votes causing Obama's margin to be negative, so adding them together gives a small number. And usually it was — except in Utah, where Romney dominated, and in West Virginia where Obama did far worse than the number of conservatives there would have suggested.
Having a lot of "conservatives," then, doesn't tell you as much as you might think about what actually happens in politics.