Op - Ed
August 2, 2017

A state of satisfaction, with one big exception

By Jon Margolis

Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is a political columnist for VTDigger.

You know who really likes Vermont?

Vermonters.

According to a Gallup Poll, 61 percent of the people who live in Vermont say it’s “the best or one of the best possible states to live in,” while only 3 percent call it “the worst state to live in.”

That 61 percent ties Vermont with Oregon and Minnesota as the eighth best-liked states among their own residents, and the 3 percent “worst state” result was one of the lowest. In 31 states, a higher percentage of people think poorly of their state.

Vermont did not get the highest scores. More than three-quarters of the residents of Alaska and Montana graded their states “one of the best.” So did 68 percent of Texans, 28 percent of whom said Texas was the “best possible state to live in.”

That was the highest rating in the country. But then, Texans are known for their chauvinism, which, as any psychologist can attest, often masks insecurity.

Fourteen percent of Vermonters pronounced theirs “the best possible state to live in,” also tied (with Washington) for eighth highest in the country.

The states with the lowest scores were Rhode Island, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan.

From one perspective, it might seem surprising that most people don’t like the state they call home. After all, this is America, where people can live wherever they choose. Whoever dislikes his or her state is free to move to another, which he or she would presumably like better.

And yet, the Gallup survey indicates that in only 19 states do a majority of people think theirs is one of the best, while in 23 states less than 40 percent give their states a good grade.

These include some of the most prosperous states in the country. With the possible exception of an oil sheikdom or two, no communities have ever had higher median household incomes than present-day New Jersey (seventh lowest in the Gallup survey), Maryland (eighth lowest), and Connecticut (10th lowest).

No doubt these states have their problems. All three are crowded. They have more crime than the higher-ranking states. Despite their wealth, they have pockets of deep poverty.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that people in these states rate them poorly because they’ve suffered from bad publicity. All three lack the pizzazz of the trendy cities near them (New York and Washington). All three are the butt of jokes about pollution, traffic jams and organized crime. Folks living in those states could be developing an inferiority complex that makes them feel bad about where they live even if the actual quality of their lives is excellent.

Similarly, Vermonters could be overrating their state because it gets lots of good publicity. Not that folks here don’t gripe. Just check the press releases of advocacy groups left and right, not to mention letters to the editor.

By and large, though, Vermont gets what the public relations industry calls “good ink.” Local businesses even talk about the value of the “Vermont brand,” whatever that may be. Politicians and scholars argue over just what “the Vermont way” means, but all agree that it’s good. Vermonters are encouraged to feel good about their state.

But so are people in many other states, and Vermont’s high ranking in the Gallup survey appears valid. It’s usually wise to be wary of basing firm conclusions on the results of just one poll. But it’s a Gallup Poll, meaning it was taken by folks who know how to do the job, and it used big samples, at least 600 adults in each state.

This poll was taken four years ago. People are fickle, and attitudes can change. But if anything, for most people life in Vermont has improved in the last four years, as the impact of the Great Recession continues to recede.

As it happens, there is more recent evidence that Vermonters are probably content with where they live. This is also from Gallup, in cooperation with Healthways, a Tennessee-based health care firm, and it measure how people judge their own well-being — physical, financial, social and personal.

In last year’s Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Vermont had the sixth-highest score. It was the second-best in “having good health and enough energy to get things done daily,” fifth when it came to “having supportive relationships and love in your life,” and eighth in “liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.”

Though Vermont’s median household income is higher than in most states, Vermonters were less upbeat about their finances. When it came to “managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security,” 37 states scored higher than Vermont. Nor did the state get a high score on the subject of “liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.” It had the 30th-highest ranking.

Hmmm. That seems a bit inconsistent. The same people who are healthy, love where they live, and have plenty of friends don’t like what they do each day?

Picky, aren’t they? Or maybe they have very high aspirations.

At any rate, the loud gripers notwithstanding, there is ample evidence that the people of Vermont do and should like living where they live.

Oh, and one more thing about them, according to yet another recent Gallup Poll: More than the residents of any other state, Vermonters do not approve of how Donald J. Trump does his job.

Only 26 percent of the Vermonters sampled approve of the president’s job performance. That’s 3 points lower than Massachusetts, the next-lowest state. And while 6 percent of the Massachusetts respondents expressed no opinion, only 3 percent of Vermonters were neutral, leaving a whopping 71 percent disapproving, 5 points higher than the Massachusetts disapproval number.

Trump’s highest approval rating – 60 percent – was in West Virginia, the state that ranked lowest in the well-being index. Whether there is any political significance to that correlation is an interesting and perhaps unanswerable question.

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