By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
The one aspect of teaching that I disliked the most was grading.
I was always torn between grading on the best work or the most improved. Was I supposed to be grading the final product, the work put into it or the skill acquired as a result of the class?
I have the same set of mixed feelings about surveys of states or cities.
We all have different preferences – and a deal-breaker or two.
Evaluation, whether of restaurants, student essays or of states, is a precarious balance between objectivity and preference.
A survey from a few months ago (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/best-states-to-live-in) used four (largely) objective measurements; healthcare, education, economy and crime.
These are relatively solid numbers – but as always, not consistent across any state, or even community. Or even individual.
Each one of us, for example, might have a very different, and defining, experience in any one of these areas.
We, in Tacoma, for a variety of reasons, have a higher than usual crime rate than most other cities in Washington, but even that experience is not distributed evenly.
Our reactions and personal experience will define how we think about how serious – if not crucial – crime is as an issue.
Our statewide crime rate, for example, holding at 15th (out of 50) compared to New Hampshire (with the lowest crime rate of all the states) might be a deal-breaker for a victim of a crime.
Those are (relatively) objective criteria.
What happens when you survey actual human beings in our polarized (and proud of it) culture?
Will liberals and conservatives have anywhere near the same opinions on any given state?
We all know the answer to that; one person’s utopia is another person’s nanny or police state.
We in the United States, if not all of the developed world, are devolving into self-selected regions where we all gravitate, and associate, almost exclusively with other people like ourselves.
In a recent (not terribly scientific) survey, YouGov, an international internet-based market research and data analytics firm, presented 1,211 adults with a series of choices of two states.
There was no suggested criteria – participants were just to judge which one they considered “better”. You can see the full details here – https://www.chronline.com/stories/washington-ranked-as-the-7th-best-state-but-only-among-democrats-for-republicans-its-45th,262747.
And, as you might expect, there were few surprises; liberals chose Hawaii as number one, conservatives chose Florida.
Liberals love California (rating it as number two, only after Hawaii) while conservatives rated it dead last.
Oregon had the second largest gap (after California) between liberals and conservatives.
Arkansas came in last for liberals, near middle (26th) for conservatives.
As with every test or survey, personal experience trumps any other criteria. In this case, participants chose their home state (77%) or where they were currently residing (79%).
Ohio, perhaps because it is one of those indistinct mid-West states, was low from both perspectives; 46 for liberals and 43 for conservatives.
Washington state, on average, ranked as 15th, but liberals rated it 7th best and conservatives rated it 45th – which means fifth from last – with only Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and California rated lower.
I’ve taken, developed and proctored tests.
The one thing I’ve learned is that testing measures or reveals the test-taker more than anything else.
The same test, taken the next day or even an hour or two earlier or later, is likely to give very different results.
Evaluating states is anything but objective.
How does one compare a state where one has lived with one that he or she has never visited?
We may have had bad memories or negative experiences – or recent vacations in any given state.
Tests and surveys like this are a snapshot – a moment captured that may, or may not, tell us anything useful about the topic being dissected.
But they do reveal the biases of the test-takers.
Florida the number one choice of conservatives?
Who didn’t know that?
Conservatives retire or vacation there by the hundreds of thousands.
And who would not have guessed that California would be the number one choice among liberals? And the state most vilified and hated by conservatives?
Or that conservatives would not prefer Massachusetts, Oregon or Wisconsin?
Most surveys don’t tell us anything new – they primarily confirm what we already knew.
In this case, stereotypes, if not polarities, seem to prevail.
And this survey is just another reminder of our moving into our respective corners.
But the bottom line is that for us to prevail as a nation, we must come together and focus on our common destiny.