I was thinking about why California is more liberal, or at least more Democratic than Vermont. Here are a bunch of reasons that are strongly correlated with liberalism in the US.

Demographic reasons:

  • California has 60 times as many people.
  • Its population density is over three times higher.
  • California is more urban.
  • A resident of Vermont is more than two times more likely to be white than a resident of California.
  • A resident of Vermont is four percentage points more likely to be a senior citizen (65 or older) than a resident of California.

Political reasons:

  • Compared to 2012, Hillary Clinton received 12% more votes in California while she received 10% fewer votes in Vermont.
  • This led to a decrease in Democratic two-party vote share in Vermont but an increase in California.
  • A higher percentage of California voters identify as Democrats.
  • The California congressional delegation is 18 percentage points more Democratic than the Vermont one.
  • It kicked out Republican House members in 2018 in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton but Vermont did not kick out its Republican governor.
  • From 2008 to 2016, the two party Democratic vote share increased by 4 points in California while it decreased by the almost exact same margin in Vermont. There was little change in 2012 but a lot in 2016, with the two states voting margins moving in opposite directions.

Cultural reasons:

  • California has a greater GDP, which is tied to greater population.
  • Like the population metric, this holds even when looking at per capita.
  • There is a lot more fame and entertainment.

Is California more liberal than Vermont? This is a pretty persuasive list of arguments.

  • 1
    It depends on what PART of California you're looking at. It is quite a diverse place. E.g. you say it is "more urban" than Vermont, but large areas of California are among the least densely populated parts of the country outside Alaska. Even among the densely populated parts, Silicon Valley is quite a bit different from either Orange County or East LA. State level analysis doesn't really make sense.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 26, 2020 at 16:50
  • I mean urbanization index. i.stack.imgur.com/EgNvT.jpg Aug 26, 2020 at 16:56
  • But that still depends on how you measure urbanization. Some of California - the LA Basin, Bay Area, parts of the Central Valley - are quite urban. Other parts, like Alpine, Sierra, & Modoc counties, are anything but.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 26, 2020 at 23:25
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    There seems to be a wild mix of "reasons" and "consequences" in those list. I am afraid it is unclear what you're asking.
    – Evargalo
    Aug 27, 2020 at 15:13

4 Answers 4


Based on a 2018 Gallup poll, Vermont is more liberal based on self-identification.

But what about all the data points you cite? The biggest issue is conflating party identification with liberal/conservative. New England is really the last remaining place where there are politicians who would identify as liberal Republicans, and Vermont's governor is one of them—he identifies as fiscally conservative but socially liberal (it's worth noting, by the way, that nearby Rhode Island has a significant contingent of Democratic politicians who identify as fiscally liberal and socially conservative). Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is by far more liberal than either California senator.

It's also worth noting that California is a large and diverse state: You still see a lot more conservative values outside the Bay Area and Los Angeles megalopolises. Orange County, which has been growing more purple is still a stronghold of extreme 80s-style Reagan-Gingrich conservatism. California is a more safely democratic state than Vermont but it's not necessarily a more liberal one.

  • Not Kamala Harris. Look at her voting record. Sorting. I have a prediction. As Democrats identify as more liberal, that will likely affect California more. This is because ideological sorting is geographically uneven. Aug 26, 2020 at 16:15
  • @MichaelMormon Kamala Harris voted for political convenience, not necessarily from her ideology. youtu.be/1-thjFybo_c?t=138
    – Tim
    Aug 26, 2020 at 16:22
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    @MichaelMormon according to govtrack.us/congress/members/report-cards/2018/senate/ideology Harris is more liberal than Feinstein, but less so than Sanders. progressivepunch.org/scores.htm?house=senate lists Harris as more liberal than Sanders.
    – Don Hosek
    Aug 26, 2020 at 16:22
  • 3
    How can Norway be more liberal than the US? It's more rural (less than half the population density), more White (over 90%, vs. 66% in the US), and older (4 more years of life expectancy). Yet 4% of their parliament are outright socialists, and even their right-wing governing coalition has more in common with Democrats than Republicans. head explodes
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 27, 2020 at 1:11
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    Good point @Evargalo I did a quick check and the median age of Norway and the median age is 39.2 versus 38.2 for the US so it is slightly older, but not as much as the life expectancy difference would apply.
    – Don Hosek
    Aug 27, 2020 at 16:37

If we rely solely on self-identification to answer this question, using the CCES 2018 dataset, we can isolate those respondents in each state, and, after demographically weighting the responses to make them representative, look at their self-reported ideology.

Purely looking at the sum of percentages of respondents on the liberal side of the graph, we see that a larger percentage (42.6%) identified as liberal in California compared to Vermont (35%).

We can also take into account the strength of respondents' convictions by looking at the skew of the data in each case. California's data has a positive skew, indicating that the respondents are asymmetrically weighted towards the liberal end of the scale. However, it has a lower skew value (0.866) than Vermont's data (1.348), indicating that the level of uneven distribution is higher in Vermont.

So it depends on how you look at it - in terms of raw numbers, California is more liberal. If we look at the skew of the respondents' ideology, however, we might draw the conclusion that Vermont is more liberal.

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    But Californians are also 5 percentage points less likely to identify as middle of the road, indicating more strong views. Aug 27, 2020 at 15:54

If we look at this Pew Research Center chart on Political Ideology by State, you'll see that California and Vermont are roughly equivalent. Vermont is perhaps slightly more liberal, and neither holds a candle to the District of Columbia. And in fact, the reason we see this result is that population size is a confounding issues. Political orientation is a function of political culture, and the more populous a region, the more likely that region will be culturally diverse, and that implies a greater number of conflicting and competing political orientations. The District of Columbia and the state of Vermont both have comparatively small populations (approximately 630,000 and 700,000 people respectively), with fairly uniform racial and SES makeups (with Vermont primarily Caucasian and DC primarily African American), but DC is much more urbanized than Vermont, and urbanization tends to produce liberal attitudes. California has 55 times the population — Vermont and DC have populations smaller than the city of San Francisco, which is by no means the largest city in California — and has numerous distinct regions with their own distinct subcultures.

State-level analysis is useful for a lot of things, but it is a coarse measure. It's like trying to strain spaghetti with a tennis racket; we lose a lot of information down the drain.


According to https://politics.stackexchange.com/a/56432 and https://news.gallup.com/poll/247016/conservatives-greatly-outnumber-liberals-states.aspx which it refers to, as far as self-identification is concerned, Vermont is more liberal than California.

State Ideological Identification, 2018

            Conservative%   Moderate%   Liberal%    Conservative advantage Pct. pts.    N

California    29    36  29  0   8,116
New Hampshire 28    36  30  -2  350
New York      27    35  30  -3  4,591
Washington    28    37  31  -3  1,980
Vermont       28    36  32  -4  249

It is true that places with more diversity tend to be more liberal, but religions, education levels, political history, and other factors also play roles. For example, Bernie Sanders started a political movement in Vermont several decades ago, and that has had significant impact on the ideology of people living in Vermont.

  • That's weird. But VT is an anomaly as well. And is that stuff true that I wrote as reasons? How about not self identification but other metrics as well. Aug 26, 2020 at 16:13

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