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?”
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.