Is North Dakota One Of The Most Conservative States In America?

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A new Gallup poll has North Dakota ranked as one of the most conservative in America based on how North Dakotans describe themselves:


By many measures, the state is quite conservative. The presence of just one abortion clinic, just barely across the border from Minnesota in Fargo, speaks to how socially conservative the state is. The dominance of Republicans in elected office, holding every single statewide office as well as a 71-23 advantage over Democrats in the state House and a 33-14 advantage in the state Senate, certainly speaks to a conservative bent too. In 2010 North Dakotans even gave two federal offices long held by Democrats to Republicans, electing Senator John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg to replace Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy respectively, and while Berg ultimately failed in moving up to the Senate, Heidi Heitkamp was just barely able to hold on to a Senate seat her party has held easily since the 1960’s.

The trend in North Dakota is most definitely toward Republicans, and I do feel the state is getting more conservative, but I’m not sure the state is as conservative as this poll suggests.

But I’m reminded of something I once heard someone say about Americans liking to describe themselves as “middle class.” You always hear politicians talk about the “middle class.” It’s always “tax cuts for the middle class” and “jobs for the middle class.” They do that because just about everyone in America, from people who might be described as poor to people who might be described as rich, likes to think of themselves as “middle class.” Indeed, a Gallup poll from last year found 86% of Americans liking to describe themselves as “working class,” “upper middle class” or “middle class.”

That’s also true in North Dakota when it comes to ideological descriptions. People here like to think of themselves as conservative, even as they support policies which aren’t very conservative at all. Policies that explode the size of state government. North Dakotans like subsidies and economic interventionism (see: economic development). We have a state-owned bank, and a state-owned grain mill, and not enough political support in the state for getting rid of either.

Heck, it’s hard to get North Dakotans behind cuts to their own taxes. Even as the state runs surpluses measured in the billions despite having doubled the size of government in the last decade, it seems most North Dakotans would still rather leave that money in the government. At least, that’s the conclusion this observer draws given the reticence citizens here have toward anything but the most modest of tax reforms.

I think North Dakotans like to think of themselves as conservatives, even as they’re supporting policies that aren’t very conservative at all.