Margolis: A state of satisfaction, with one big exception

Hikers enjoy the view from Camels Hump on the Long Trail. File photo by Sheri Larsen, courtesy of the Green Mountain Club

(Jon Margolis writes political columns for VTDigger.)

You know who really likes Vermont?


According to a Gallup Poll, 61 percent of the people who live in Vermont say it’s “the best or one of the best possible states to live in,” while only 3 percent call it “the worst state to live in.”

That 61 percent ties Vermont with Oregon and Minnesota as the eighth best-liked states among their own residents, and the 3 percent “worst state” result was one of the lowest. In 31 states, a higher percentage of people think poorly of their state.

Vermont did not get the highest scores. More than three-quarters of the residents of Alaska and Montana graded their states “one of the best.” So did 68 percent of Texans, 28 percent of whom said Texas was the “best possible state to live in.”

That was the highest rating in the country. But then, Texans are known for their chauvinism, which, as any psychologist can attest, often masks insecurity.

Fourteen percent of Vermonters pronounced theirs “the best possible state to live in,” also tied (with Washington) for eighth highest in the country.

The states with the lowest scores were Rhode Island, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Michigan.

From one perspective, it might seem surprising that most people don’t like the state they call home. After all, this is America, where people can live wherever they choose. Whoever dislikes his or her state is free to move to another, which he or she would presumably like better.

And yet, the Gallup survey indicates that in only 19 states do a majority of people think theirs is one of the best, while in 23 states less than 40 percent give their states a good grade.

These include some of the most prosperous states in the country. With the possible exception of an oil sheikdom or two, no communities have ever had higher median household incomes than present-day New Jersey (seventh lowest in the Gallup survey), Maryland (eighth lowest), and Connecticut (10th lowest).

No doubt these states have their problems. All three are crowded. They have more crime than the higher-ranking states. Despite their wealth, they have pockets of deep poverty.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that people in these states rate them poorly because they’ve suffered from bad publicity. All three lack the pizzazz of the trendy cities near them (New York and Washington). All three are the butt of jokes about pollution, traffic jams and organized crime. Folks living in those states could be developing an inferiority complex that makes them feel bad about where they live even if the actual quality of their lives is excellent.

Similarly, Vermonters could be overrating their state because it gets lots of good publicity. Not that folks here don’t gripe. Just check the press releases of advocacy groups left and right, not to mention letters to the editor and the comments on this website.

By and large, though, Vermont gets what the public relations industry calls good ink. Local businesses even talk about the value of the “Vermont brand,” whatever that may be. Politicians and scholars argue over just what “the Vermont way” means, but all agree that it’s good. Vermonters are encouraged to feel good about their state.

But so are people in many other states, and Vermont’s high ranking in the Gallup survey appears valid. It’s usually wise to be wary of basing firm conclusions on the results of just one poll. But it’s a Gallup Poll, meaning it was taken by folks who know how to do the job, and it used big samples, at least 600 adults in each state.

This poll was taken four years ago. People are fickle, and attitudes can change. But if anything, for most people life in Vermont has improved in the last four years, as the impact of the Great Recession continues to recede.

As it happens, there is more recent evidence that Vermonters are probably content with where they live. This is also from Gallup, in cooperation with Healthways, a Tennessee-based health care firm, and it measure how people judge their own well-being — physical, financial, social and personal.

In last year’s Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Vermont had the sixth-highest score. It was the second-best in “having good health and enough energy to get things done daily,” fifth when it came to “having supportive relationships and love in your life,” and eighth in “liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.”

Though Vermont’s median household income is higher than in most states, Vermonters were less upbeat about their finances. When it came to “managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security,” 37 states scored higher than Vermont. Nor did the state get a high score on the subject of “liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.” It had the 30th-highest ranking.

Hmmm. That seems a bit inconsistent. The same people who are healthy, love where they live, and have plenty of friends don’t like what they do each day?

Picky, aren’t they? Or maybe they have very high aspirations.

At any rate, the loud gripers notwithstanding, there is ample evidence that the people of Vermont do and should like living where they live.

Oh, and one more thing about them, according to yet another recent Gallup Poll: More than the residents of any other state, Vermonters do not approve of how Donald J. Trump does his job.

Only 26 percent of the 220 Vermonters sampled approve of the president’s job performance. That’s 3 points lower than Massachusetts, the next-lowest state. And while 6 percent of the Massachusetts respondents expressed no opinion, only 3 percent of Vermonters were neutral, leaving a whopping 71 percent disapproving, 5 points higher than the Massachusetts disapproval number.

Trump’s highest approval rating – 60 percent – was in West Virginia, the state that ranked lowest in the well-being index. Whether there is any political significance to that correlation is an interesting and perhaps unanswerable question.

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Jon Margolis

About Jon

Jon Margolis is VTDigger's columnist. He is the author of The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964, left the Chicago Tribune early in 1995 after 23 years as Washington correspondent, sports writer, correspondent-at-large and general columnist. Margolis spent most of his Tribune years in the Washington Bureau as the newspaper’s chief national political correspondent. In 1988, he was a one of the journalists asking questions of Senators Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle in their televised vice presidential debate. Before joining the Tribune in 1973, Margolis had been the Albany Bureau Chief for Newsday. He was the first reporter on the scene of the Attica prison rebellion in 1971, and spent the entire first night inside the prisoner-held “D” yard. Earlier, Margolis was a reporter for the Bergen Record in Hackensack, N.J.; the Miami Herald and the Concord Monitor (N.H.). In addition to The Last Innocent Year, published by William Morrow in 1999, he is the author of How To Fool Fish With Feathers: An Incompleat Guide to Fly Fishing (Simon and Schuster, 1991) and The Quotable Bob Dole — Witty, Wise and Otherwise, (Avon Books, 1995). He also wrote two chapters of Howard Dean: A citizens Guide to the Man Who Would be President (Steerforth, 2003). A native of New Jersey, Margolis graduated from Oberlin College in 1962. He served in the US Army.

Email: [email protected]

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  • Peter Chick

    I see Mr. Margolis has forgotten how inaccurate polls can be. Just ask Hillary she found out the hard way.

    • Robert Lehmert

      You are aware that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes as predicted by the polls, yes? You are aware that an antagonistic foreign power interfered with the election, and that the Trump campaign met with the antagonistic foreign power and subsequently denied the contacts under oath, right?

      • Peter Everett

        Please, try to get over this. We have a system that, not perfect, has worked for 240 years. Yes, you don’t like the outcome, but, would you feel the same way if the outcome were reversed. I seriously doubt it.
        For years I didn’t care for the present system, until I researched it. Lowly populated areas are given a voice. I don’t want just the large, metropolitan areas determining my life. Our values are different. We should have a say. Hell, I live in a rural area from Burlington. My life is so different than those residents. We can see in our Legislature that the emphasis is on those in larger areas vs rural areas. Time to realize that a Progressive, Utopian life is not possible…even though Progressives keep letting us believe their way is the ONLY way…while every one of there programs and policies fail over time.

        • Michael Olcott

          you had me right up to “Time to realize that a Progressive, Utopian life is not possible..” i disagree with you there but only somewhat. we will never reach what i think you mean by that description, that doesnt mean that we should not strive to make this a better world than what we grew up in. i dont preach UBI stuff because i think its better than a good paying job40+ hrs a week, the realities of our world mean that most will no longer attain that no matter how hard they work. im no progressive but if i must support them to move us past the thinking of ‘i never got nuthin so nobody else had better either’ when the systems in place simply dont work for all of us anymore then so be it. you cant exclude 1/5 th of the workforce for cannabis use up to a week after one time then call them lazy and stupid it dont work both ways. thats just one common issue b4 the labor market and those sidelined by it. collage education requirements are another one,somehow that became the new HS education of old yet we force millions into obscene debt for it, and half of the classes are not even relevant to the field. healthcare? we go round about that here all the time, but it boils down to there is no Life without it,not for long that is. so no its not possible but we have a long ways to go before we need to worry about being a utopia.

        • Robert Lehmert

          I beg your pardon, but you may recall Trump saying that he would accept the results of the election — but only if he won! Which he seems to have accomplished with “a little help” from his “friends” from an antagonistic foreign power controlled by gangsters and fellow narcissists. Beyond the implications of foreign interference in our election for the benefit of a preferred candidate, the behavior of Trump and his circle is erratic and inspires loathing, fear and anxiety among the general public. He lacks basic competence to do his job, as well as interest or attention span or ability to delegate. I don’t think I can accept this under any circumstances.

        • Robert Lehmert

          Peter, it’s been a busy 24 hours. I thought you might want to comment on this article: https://tinyurl.com/y8uu3o5r This is not something I aspire to “get over”:

          “In a period of less than 26 hours — from 6:31 p.m. on July 24 to 8:09 p.m. on July 25 — President Trump made two fired-up speeches, held a news conference and tweeted with abandon, leaving a trail of misinformation in his wake. Here’s a roundup of his suspect claims.”

      • Dan DeCoteau

        Surely you would know more than the founding fathers who over a period of many years devised the constitution and the basis of the United States government through essays called the Federalist Papers. The United States government is founded as a Republic and not a Democracy. Your words relating to the popular vote are meaningless and have been for 240 years.

  • Edward Letourneau

    They should do a poll of senior citizens who grew up here. The result will be very different.

    • Robert Lehmert

      “O tempora o mores” is an observation by Cicero in the fourth book of his second oration against Verres (chapter 25) and First Oration against Catiline. It translates literally as Oh the times! Oh the customs!


  • Dan DeCoteau

    It was the second-best in “having good health and enough energy to get things done daily,” We have a severe opiate problem, we obviously have lots of poverty based on section 8 housing, EBT users (food stamps) and thousands on Medicaid. Has anyone seen the size and scope of Washington County Mental Health in just one county of Vermont indicating severe drug and mental health issues. So who did the surveyors contact? Did they go into the backwoods of Vermont and knock on doors with clip board in hand? No, they took a survey of people willing to take a survey probably online. Of course people who are well off financially are generally happy no matter where they are. Many So-called Vermonters who moved here to escape the rat race of cities clogged with traffic, no space, out of control population and crime love what they found here in Vermont. Many of them made their money and had the wealth to pack up and move. Life for thousands of Vermonters, real Vermonters is not as rosy as this feel good piece tries to suggest. In fact Vermont is now the 8th most taxed and expensive place to live of 50 states. This feel good piece is nothing more than a rose colored picture and survey of people not of the categories mentioned above and is a shallow look that ignores much of the real Vermont.

    • jan van eck

      Unfortunately, it is far worse than that. The Vermont elite is in complete denial as to the true status of rural Vermont. The median income is only $14.42/hr, not quite $29,000/yr. If you are living in old uninsulated housing stock (typical for rural Vermont) your heating bill – if you can even afford to heat the place – will run you around $6,000/yr. Add taxes of another $5,000 and there goes 40% of your Gross Pay before you even turn the key in your car ignition to go to work. Dump on your mortgage payment, auto costs, and your food bill and you are already flat broke.

      This is a State in two parts: the urban wealthy, basically living in Chittenden County, and everybody else outside the Gold Coast ski towns which can live off the taxes on non-resident property owners. At the end of the day, the “everybody else” have no money. To see the pernicious effects of this, I invite you to take a look at Bellows Falls, emblematic of what happens when a prosperous industrial town loses that industrial base that historically employed the population and paid the bills, and all the costs now are shovelled onto the backs of a few homeowners. Add in the State education tax burdens and it is crushing. A house assessed at $140,000 pays taxes of $5,500; by any standard, that is brutal. http://www.fact8.com/mlplay.php?10728

      The real challenge facing the elites, the political leadership, is to develop a new structure to dramatically remove the overall tax burden, with reductions of 40% to 50% for starters. Can it be done? I say it can. Will it happen? Well, folks, that’s up to you.

  • Brooke Paige

    The survey must have been taken on Burlington’s Church Street on a Saturday evening. Try Barre at Dante Place or downtown Rutland and I am sure the satisfaction rate would be far less “rosy” !

  • patricia jedlicka

    I’d be interested to know the age and average household income of those polled. Are they actually still here in VT? The article mentions that the poll is 4 yrs old now. How may UVM students were polled? (people who will not wind up staying here permanently anyway) I tend to agree with others here that if you go into the smaller towns outside the Chittenden county area, the sentiment may be quite different indeed. Bottom line is, though, you can love where you live for the physical beauty and recreational opportunities it offers, but really be living on the edge of any financial/economic security. That is why people leave. Taking a hike in the beautiful countryside doesn’t pay that $5000 property tax bill.

  • patricia jedlicka

    I agree. I actually thought that was an arrogant statement for him to make. Doesn’t much like Texans I presume. And having been to Texas, I can tell you, they don’t like Vermonters much either 🙂

  • Steve Baker

    The pollsters must have spoken to a very select group of Vermonters.

  • Dan DeCoteau

    I wish I could up vote twice. What you just wrote has been lost in the fallacy of the progressive teaching in our schools. I am a Vermonter, not an implant from somewhere else. My wife passed away at 45 years old. My son was graduating college and my daughter was a junior in high school. Almost half of our family income passed away too. I didn’t think of signing on to all the social programs out there. I have been mostly self employed, but I got 2 more part-time jobs as well as working my investigative business. We got through it, my daughter started working part-time at 16 years old. My son now lives in the mid-west with a great job. He had to leave here to find opportunity. My daughter went on to receive 2 college degrees and is doing great. They both realized with my help that sitting around and blaming others was a waste of time. We sold our house and I rented for 9 years before I was able to buy another modest house by myself. These were rough financial times for me and my children. We pulled together and got through it because that’s what my parents instilled in me as a child. And you are exactly right. There is no Utopia out there now or never. The progressive way will fail, it always has. For now it’s easier for people to blame Trump for doing what this country needs. Either we become a government welfare country or we return to our roots. There are always people who will need legitimate help. Giving benefits and whining about your poor world just steels money and resources from those who really need it. We need to return our educational systems to the people not the liberal unions. We need to educate our youth not fondle them with the untruth that they need to be taken care of. And we need to focus on the things that matter to the individual and not the group think mentality. Every person reading this needs to pause and reflect on the fact that if we don’t get back to our roots as a country, we too will pass away as a nation.

    • Peter Everett

      We need more people with your attitude and work ethic. Like you, I take pride in obtaining what I have accomplished through hard work. Often it isn’t easy, but, in the end the result makes it all worthwhile. Hold your head high because you deserve to. What we obtain, on our own, through determination, can never be taken from us. I just wish that this was the ideology of the vast majority. Unfortunately, the majority that feels this way is dwindling. Soon, it may become the minority. Far too many want things without working for them. Sad.

  • Peter Chick

    The more time they waste on this means less time raising my taxes.

  • Matt Young

    Please define “quality of life”. I assume it means different things to different people. Freedom would be a big factor for some, handouts and free money would be wonderful to some…

    • Robert Lehmert

      Read the article — your question is answered there.

    • Matt Young

      I can’t get your take on “quality of life” by reading the article, you didn’t write the article.