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Why Is Idaho so Conservative?

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I recently came across a good method for discovering which stereotypes and questions exist about a certain place: just allow Google to auto-complete the phrase, “Why is [place] so _____?” I’ve discovered that people tend to wonder why Ohio is so important, why South Korea is so weird, and why Georgia is so humid. And the number one question for our current home: “Why is Idaho so… conservative?”

Blue-Girl-Red-State

Idaho is one of the reddest states in our very divided nation. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney beat Obama by over 34 points. The last time Idaho voted for a Democrat was in 1964 when it joined the rest of the nation in thumping Barry Goldwater. Idaho is currently one of only three states with all-Republican Congressmen, Senators and a Governor (Kansas and Wyoming are the others).

I’m no political scientist, and my observations aren’t in any way definitive or even very informed, but if someone were to ask me, “Hey, you spent some time there. So why is Idaho so conservative?”, I’d have three big answers:

1) Idahoans are loners. This was the last American state to be explored by settlers, and has a history in individualist industries like mining and farming. It’s underpopulated, vastly wild (over 60% of Idaho is public land), hard-to-reach and isolated. And Idahoans like it that way. Whether it’s Fish & Game agents regulating hunting, the Feds closing brothels, or Uncle Sam taking away their hard-earned cash, Idahoans tend to mistrust anything coming out of Washington DC. Far-away legislators don’t have any idea what living here is all about, and so Idahoans want to limit federal power to the fullest extent possible… a legitimate mind-set which aligns them nicely with Republicans.

2) Idahoans are white. Overwhelmingly. In much of the state, spotting a black or Asian face on the streets is an event. And in recent American political contests, white people have tended to vote Republican.

3) Mormons. A lot of Mormons live in Idaho, having emigrated up from Utah. Some cities in the southeastern part of the state are over 97% Mormon. And those are guaranteed Republican votes.

Jürgen and I are unrepentant liberals, but I never felt unwelcome in Idaho. Locals truly embrace the live-and-let-live attitude, and we never encountered any unpleasant situations, even when conversations veered toward politics or our homosexuality. If any of the people we met disapproved of us, our views or our lifestyle, they politely kept quiet and treated us as equals. Idaho might be extremely conservative, but as long as you respect the Golden Rule, it’s also an extremely easy place to get along.

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November 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm
16 comments »
  • November 5, 2012 at 11:23 pmdee

    Fortunately for us “Blue” people in the “Red” state Idahoans there is Ada County (Boise) and Blaine County (Sun Valley/Ketchum). Both these areas have a higher-than-their-neighbors degree of education and consistently vote and live less conservatively minded. The few democrats in the legislature come from these areas.

  • November 5, 2012 at 11:26 pmCarolyn Walpole

    Thank you for spelling it out so succinctly. As a “Blue Girl in a Red State” I still believe it is important for my vote to be counted. Maybe, just maybe…there will come a time when more people will take a look around and recognize that the continuation of selfish exploitation of Idaho’s beautiful lands and its exceptional wildlife, will surely mean the end of that which makes Idaho the special place it still is.

  • November 6, 2012 at 3:23 pmTony

    Conservative yes but largely Libertarian.

  • November 7, 2012 at 8:09 amAngela

    My BF’s Idaho family is comprised of Seventh Day Adventist fans of the Tea Party (he is a non-religious Republican). While they have accepted this Canadian as one of their own and I love them dearly, it is best we avoid the topics of politics and social issues.

  • November 8, 2012 at 11:13 pmJeff

    I took your advice and tried it for Ohio…and I found out that people wonder why Ohio is so important and why Ohio is so popular.  I’m cool with that…but I think the election season may have something to do with it.

  • November 22, 2012 at 5:47 am30Traveler

    hehe that’s funny. I tried it for New Zealand (where I’m from) and got: expensive, cold, awesome, good at rugby. The actual top results were about: passive, boring, lifeless, expensive, and racist. Not so awesome!

  • January 5, 2013 at 5:07 amCMartel2

    Individual liberty and personal accountability are highly valued here.  That’s part of it.  You’ll also find that in smaller towns, people have roles they play, be it in the local community, church or school.  To have the government play these roles simply isn’t fitting.  If someone if your church is sick, the community rallies around them.  That’s the job of the community and the faithful; not the government.  It’s a different way of life from urban centers.  And I’ve lived in major urban centers from London to Southern California to Atlanta.  I’ve also lived in small farming towns, Amish country, southern small towns, and the mountain west.  You can really just go down the list. People don’t move to a place like Idaho to have their lives micromanaged by those who claim to know better than the populace.  Some say Idahoans are isolated, which is true, but the interaction that occurs in something like checking out a the store doesn’t necessarily take on the superficial, rushed experience you see in a more urban area.  There’s less social isolation and more of interest in who people are.It always amuses me to hear liberals speak about being overly educated and taking on a holier-than-thou attitude towards conservatives when this doesn’t really hold true–statistically or otherwise.  Doctors–of which I am one–went for Romney by over 20%.  The press won’t ever report that because it runs against the Obamacare meme, but that’s the way it is. 

  • January 17, 2013 at 4:55 amzdv

    It’s a little misleading to conflate conservativism with Republicanism.  While Idaho has always been pretty conservative, it regularly elected politicians from both parties up until the 1980s.  The next time the political parties realign themselves, it wouldn’t surprise me if things change regarding how Idaho votes.  I personally think it’s interesting that Montana (a state much like Idaho in many ways) now regularly elects Democrats.

  • July 18, 2013 at 6:54 amKevin Small

    Some of the explanations I hear on this site hold no weight for me as a reason why the great state of Idaho is so conservative.As for the Caucasian argument well I live in the whitest state in the nation (Maine) and Obama won the state both elections handily.We got potatoes in Maine as far as the eye can see so nope on that argument(I know the people claiming this argument were most likely joking).As far as religion goes this argument holds weight with me.Mormons would rather jump off a building head first tthen vote for a stinking progressive like me.The personal liberty argument for voting conservative rings t true “unless you are a homosexual,atheist,pregnant women in distress,any other religion than Christianity,public school student,black,Latino,anyone questioning the support of Israel,any person questioning the true wording of the 2nd amendment,etc..

  • November 21, 2013 at 8:40 pmJudy Doyle

    We live, rather exist in the most rotten state of Kalifornia.  The maniac that was elected governor signed a bill authorizing 25 million dollars to be used to support a group that takes guns away from Californians.  The use the registered gun list and you don’t have to have a record, just own a gun.  We have been looking at Idaho because it is Conservative and so are we. 
    We cannot wait to get out of this communist state! 

    • July 22, 2016 at 7:16 pmMo

      right behind you!!!

  • December 13, 2015 at 2:08 pmRuth Guercio

    Hi.  I am a Politically conservative Jewish woman who is sickened by the direction America is going in.  I am looking to live in a place where my values are the norm but being Jewish I worry that I will not be accepted.  I believe in G-d, the constitution and conservative values in general and support my fellow Christian conservatives.  I am from NYC but prefer nature.  I am sickened living in NY.  Would that place be Idaho?Thanks.

  • March 6, 2016 at 8:06 pmlon cheney jr

    Personal responsablity right from wrong. To own a gun to hunt and protect yourself is not wrong. Murdering someone is. Game laws are in place to prevent over hunting and eradication of game species. If I had the money I would gladly move to the conservative state of Idaho.

  • July 22, 2016 at 7:19 pmMo

    Looking to move to ID   we are conservatives formerly dems in our youth  life has taught us  liberal progressivism  makes u a prisoner to  govt     Cali is a mess with Moonbeam in charge   ID is beautiful

  • November 8, 2016 at 1:16 amBrian

    Idaho IS conservative and becoming increasingly uncomfortable for liberals. Why? We’re tired of the Left eating the elephant one bit at a time until they’ve destroyed your state. There is a LOT of anti-Left sentiment here, yes in the Boise area, and a major influx of conservatives is occurring. Purple is becoming more red… thank God. And for the sake of the blue girl in a red state – Please don’t go around thinking that you are more educated and that’s why you’re a liberal. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees as does everyone that I work with, and we are ALL far-right conservatives. We see right through your shenanigans and spin – and none of us make liberals feel they are OK in being here, golden rule or not. Go to a state or country where your kind has already taken over and leave at least a little bit of the United States to us… don’t be greedy. Go away.

    • November 8, 2016 at 7:32 amMike Powell

      Wow, thanks for the comment! It’s certainly illuminating. Luckily for us… and the rest of humanity… people like you don’t get to decide where others are “allowed” to go. Idaho doesn’t belong to you, and your attempts to make people feel unwelcome (a stunning admission, by the way) don’t have any real power.

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Why Is Idaho so Conservative? I recently came across a good method for discovering which stereotypes and questions exist about a certain place: just allow Google to auto-complete the phrase, "Why is [place] so _____?" I've discovered that people tend to wonder why Ohio is so important, why South Korea is so weird, and why Georgia is so humid. And the number one question for our current home: "Why is Idaho so... conservative?"
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