A regular political variable pollsters capture is ideology. A scale from liberal to conservative, sometimes with gradations, such as lean liberal or lean conservative, and always including a center position labeled moderate or middle-of-the-road, has been asked of Americans since polling began in earnest after the Second World War.
There has been considerable debate about the concept. Some scholars and practitioners have argued people do not have much understanding of the concept, and there is variation depending on the domain people are using, such as social values, economic positions or foreign policy (people may be liberal on some and conservative on others). Also, liberal intellectuals believe their label has been denigrated, and people who are liberal are selecting the labels “moderate” or “middle-of-the-road” to avoid using it. They prefer the label “progressive.”
But, the concept is well-grounded in social science. It has been around for a long time and has considerable stability. When ideology is matched with partisanship of a population there is very high levels (albeit, far from perfect) of correlation between Democrats and liberalism and Republicans and conservatism.
Gallup recently published an analysis of its 2010 surveys with more than 180,000 American adults and the latest results of the nation’s ideology.
Colorado is on the more liberal side of the 50-state spectrum (plus D.C.), registering 36th most conservative state and the 8th most liberal.
In general, the country labels itself about twice as conservative as liberal (40% to 20%). The West contains a share of some of the most conservative states: Idaho (2nd), Wyoming (4th) and Utah (5th).
Mid-point western states, which are still two-to-one conservative, are New Mexico (23rd), Alaska (24th) and Montana (26th).
Still leaning conservative, but on the more liberal end of the spectrum are Arizona (28th), Nevada (30th) and Colorado (36th). These states are considered battleground states for the 2012 presidential race, and Arizona and Nevada have competitive senate elections (both without incumbents).
At the liberal end of the scale with less than a 10-percentage-point difference between people who label themselves liberal and conservative are Oregon (40th), California (42nd) and Washington (43rd). Hawaii (50th), the most western state with nearly as many liberals as conservatives, is only beat out as the most liberal state by Washington D.C. (51st).
Liberal and Democratic candidates often win states in the west, including the inner west, because personalities, issue positions and campaigns make a difference, but importantly large numbers of middle-of-the-road or moderate voters, which represent about 35 percent of the western electorate, lean liberal in many western states or are volatile and can be persuaded to move left.