A new Gallup poll found Wyoming was the most conservative state in the country in 2013.
The poll said 51.4 percent of Wyomingites identified as conservatives.
That’s up from 2012, when Wyoming tied with North Dakota as second-most conservative, with 48.6 percent of residents identifying as conservative, according to a report on the poll.
The reason Wyoming has gotten more conservative is the energy-based economy, which has drawn in new residents from conservative states, observers said.
“I don’t know that Wyoming will ever go back toward the left as they did in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s,” said Bonnie Foster, chairwoman of the Natrona County Republican Party and secretary for the Wyoming GOP. “Usually, where you find the energy industry you find more conservatives.”
“I think what’s going on in Wyoming is there’s a lot of in-migration from particularly the old Southwest — Texas, Oklahoma and other places,” University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts said. “I think it can be seen in Sweetwater County in particular where a lot of people involved in the oil and gas business are Republicans and conservatives, where previously, people were affiliated with the Democrats.”
The 2013 Gallup poll asked residents whether they identify as conservative, moderate or liberal. In Wyoming, 34.6 percent of residents identified as moderate and 10.9 percent as liberal.
The sum of conservatives, moderates and liberals in Wyoming is 96.9 percent because of how the pollsters rounded numbers, Gallup spokeswoman Lauren Kannry said.
Frank Newport, Gallup editor-in-chief, said in a video that more Americans identify themselves as conservatives than as moderates or liberals.
“‘Liberal’ is not a word that a lot of Americans like to identify with,” he said.
Western states were among the most conservative. After Wyoming, the second-most conservative was Mississippi, followed by Idaho, Utah and Montana.
Gallup’s 2013 poll was the result of telephone interviews from Jan. 2, 2013 to Dec. 29 during calls that asked a wide range of questions.
The sample size was 178,527 adults, age 18 and older, living in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. In Wyoming, 525 people were polled, Gallup said.
The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percent, according to Gallup.
Washington, D.C., was the most liberal place in the country, with 38.1 percent of residents identifying as liberals, followed by Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware and New York, Gallup said.
Foster, the Natrona County Republican Party chairwoman, noted that in addition to Wyoming being the most conservative in the country, the state also has the second-highest Tea Party membership as a percentage of state population.
But that news doesn’t give Republicans permission to slack, she said. The party still must work hard to win elections.
“This year they could be very conservative, next year they could move and things could change, and it becomes more moderate,” she said.
Wyomingites historically voted for more candidates from both parties, as compared to recent years, when they have tended to vote for more Republicans, said Roberts, the UW history professor.
Gov. Matt Mead was only the second Republican governor elected since 1974. The other Republican governor elected since then was Jim Geringer. Democratic governors elected since 1974 included Dave Freudenthal, Mike Sullivan and Ed Herschler – who was elected for a record of three terms, Roberts said.
In 1958, Wyomingites elected two Democratic U.S. senators, a Democratic governor and a Democratic secretary of state, Roberts said.
Roberts said that the newspapers in Casper and Cheyenne have drifted to the right, politically. More people listen to conservative talk radio, too, he said.
The media don’t “tell people how to think, but I think the constant repetition of one particular point of view tends to, over time, force a consensus,” Roberts said. “That can be for ill or for not.”
Robin Van Ausdall, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said it is tough to convince good Democrats to run in the country’s most conservative state. It doesn’t help that President Barack Obama is unpopular in Wyoming, she added.
Democratic candidates gain traction by focusing on issues over party, especially issues that the GOP has neglected, such as Medicaid expansion, which would initially save Wyoming money, she said. Saving money is a “solidly responsible, what-used-to-be-a-conservative position,” Van Ausdall said.
Many Wyomingites also want more protections for worker safety, Van Ausdall said. In the end, the definition of conservatism is relative.
“I would tell you any number of ways where I might call myself quite a conservative,” she said. “I’m a mother of four. My kids would say I’m pretty darn conservative.”