Thursday, July 27, 2006
The most "representative" state: Wisconsin
From The Morning Grind

Looking for a state that is a microcosm of the whole country? You won't find it in Iowa or New Hampshire -- there are 25 states that come closer to average statewide measures on important characteristics such as race and income.

What about Nevada or South Carolina? Nope. They're even further away from "real America" than New Hampshire -- or Utah, for that matter. Michigan? You're getting warmer, but there are 10 states that can claim to be more representative than Michigan.

In fact, a politician looking for that mythical microcosm -- the most typical state in the country -- should look no further than Wisconsin.

The Badger State comes closer than any other to state-by-state averages on 12 key measures, according to a new analysis by CNN Polling Director Keating Holland that takes a fresh look at U.S. Census data.

"For years, politicians who put the presidential calendar together have wrestled with the question of which states really are the most typical or more representative of the country," Holland said. "Here is one way to determine that."

Holland identified 12 key statistics -- four that measure race and ethnicity, four that look at income and education, and four that describe the typical neighborhood in each state -- and added up how far each was from the figures for the average state on each measure.

Holland said he chose these 12 different categories because "they have a strong impact on the political landscape in every state."

Close behind Wisconsin are four other Midwestern states that look most like a hypothetical average state -- Missouri, Kansas, Indiana and Ohio. Most of the least-typical states tend to come from the Northeast, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. West Virginia is in 49th place, while Mississippi comes in dead last.

Interestingly, West Virginia and Mississippi both petitioned the Democratic National Committee to be chosen for early slots on the party's presidential nominating calendar in 2008. So did Michigan. They all lost. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee recently recommended that Nevada and South Carolina join Iowa and New Hampshire for this coveted placement on the presidential nominating calendar. The full DNC membership is likely to ratify the recommendations next month.

So, what makes Wisconsin so special -- or, to put it another way, what makes Wisconsin so average? It is about as close to the average state as you can get on most of the 12 measures included in this study.

For example, let's take the number of college graduates who live in each state. Wyoming is dead center among all 50 states, with 30.22 percent of its population holding a college degree. In Wisconsin, the number is 30.24 percent.

Or take housing values. On a state-by-state basis the median housing value, in North Carolina, is just over $111,600. The median housing value in Wisconsin is roughly $111,500. The Badger State is also fairly close to the state-by-state average on population growth, home ownership, population density, and the number of blacks and Hispanics who live there. The number of whites and blue-collar workers who live in Wisconsin is much further away from the average state's figures on those measures, but not enough to keep the Badger State from claiming the top spot.

Mississippi, on the other hand, is about as far away from the average state as you can get on most of the 12 measures included in this study. By some measures, Mississippi is the poorest and most rural state in the country. The average house in Mississippi is worth only about $71,000. (Only Oklahoma has a lower median housing value.) When you add it all up, Mississippi is so far away from the typical state on so many different measures that it ends up at the bottom of the list.

"It's important to note that there are hundreds of ways of making this same calculation, and dozens of states could all make a legitimate claim to being the most representative state in the nation," Holland said.

To make the calculations easier to understand, Holland recalculated each state's score to produce a zero-to-50 scale -- there are 50 states, after all -- with a high score indicating a state that is more representative than a state with a lower score.

A ranking of the 50 states

1. Wisconsin 36.4
2. Missouri 35.2
3. Kansas 34.4
4. Indiana 30.8
5. Ohio 30.1
6. Oklahoma 29.9
7. Oregon 29.3
8. Nebraska 29.0
9. Georgia 27.3
10. Minnesota 26.9
11. Michigan 26.8
12. Washington 26.3
13. Wyoming 25.9
14. North Carolina 25.8
15. Florida 25.6
16. Montana 25.3
17. Virginia 25.3
18. Alaska 25.1
19. Pennsylvania 25.0
20. Arizona 24.8
21. Delaware 24.1
22. Tennessee 22.3
23. South Dakota 21.4
24. Kentucky 20.3
25. New Mexico 20.3
26. Iowa 19.6
27. Texas 19.6
28. Illinois 19.5
29. Rhode Island 19.0
30. Maryland 18.9
31. Colorado 18.8
32. Louisiana 18.3
33. Idaho 18.1
34. Vermont 17.9
35. Maine 17.4
36. New Hampshire 17.4
37. Utah 17.0
38. Hawaii 16.3
39. South Carolina 15.8
40. California 15.3
41. Arkansas 15.0
42. Alabama 14.6
43. North Dakota 13.8
44. Nevada 13.5
45. Connecticut 13.1
46. Massachusetts 11.6
47. New Jersey 11.4
48. New York 6.5
49. West Virginia 4.8
50. Mississippi 2.8
Posted By Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit: 7/27/2006 10:09:00 AM ET | Permalink
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