Oregon and Washington are the most politically polarized states in the nation. Check out this chart from the statistics whiz kids at Fivethirtyeight:

poli axis

Chart interpretation: The higher your state, the more liberal its John Kerry voters were; the further left your state is, the more conservative your George W Bush (2004) voters were. (Don’t get hung up on the colors: those just represent which candidate won the state.) Now see where Oregon and Washington are, all by their lonesome up there?

  • No other place compares to the Northwest when it comes to political polarization. Northwest Kerry voters were more liberal than in almost any other state; and Northwest Bush voters were more conservative than in almost any other states. Our liberals are really liberal and our conservatives are really conservative. So this explains why state politics are so much fun! (And why being governor must be a nightmare.)

    Of course, this stark polarization is pretty obvious to anyone who lives here—and especially if you spend any time traveling back and forth between the west and east sides of the states. The Cascade Curtain isn’t just about geography: it also marks a deep cultural and political divide. So while I wasn’t in the least suprised, I thought it was interesting to see some empirical evidence of a Northwest peculiarity.

    One complaint, however: This chart annoys the heck out of me. It would be far more intuitive if the x-axis were reversed. Moderate voters should converge in the bottom left corner and the more extreme voters should be located in the upper right corner.

    Update: Clark correctly points out that without seeing the underlying data distribution, it’s tough to know if the phenomenon is actually “polarization” as we normally think of it (meaning two or more discrete “lumps” of opinion on the extremes with a smaller number of people in the center). It’s possible, for instance, that there’s just a single pole with an exceptionally large standard deviation, perhaps indicating a great diversity of political opinion. Still, I think that outside of stats class, poetic license permits use of the word “polarization.” And however you slice it, it’s true that Northwest partisans tend to share less in common with their opposition than in other states.