Every Purple Flaw

It is common in the U.S. today to readily speak of 'red,' 'purple,' and 'blue' states, as if these are monoliths with the same characteristics. Similar presumptions are made when residents speak of regions such as 'the Coasts' or 'the South,' 'the Rust Belt' or 'the Midwest.' In fact, all states are mixtures of blue and red, and shared characteristics exist between the deepest red and the brightest blue.

With these perceptions in mind, this project presents a series of dynamic state portraits, each created using rankings (50th to 1st) from the 2021 U.S. News and World Reports Best States platform, and supplemented by data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

You are encouraged to read through, examine the relationships presented here and create some comparisons of your own to find links where they were perhaps not expected. You will no doubt also find that no star in the union is perfect.

For Starters

Let's begin with the broad view of the country — 'sea to shining sea' as it were. For this and the sections that follow, each point represents a select metric within the U.S. News rankings. Different related sets can then be explored and compared — as can different 'Purple Values' — using the dropdown menus.

An Overview of the States
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White: 60.7%
Hispanic or Latino: 18%
Black, African American: 12.3%
Asian: 5.5%

Two or More Races: 2.4%
American Indian, Alaska Native: 0.7%
Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander: 0.2%
Some Other Race: 0.2%
Select a Purple Value:

Select Values to Map:

A. Overall Rank
B. Health Care
C. Education
D. Economy
E. Infrastructure
For Comparison

Now let's look at some of those states one-on-one and region-to-region. The portraits below show select comparisons on some of the topics seen in the map and allow you to explore different states and regions, along with their Purple Values. As you review, start by thinking of a state you know, perhaps one you have lived in or visited often. Then think of one you don't know well — or that you think you know.

The Best and Least Best

Based on the U.S. News rankings, there is a clear difference between the top and bottom of the list. With few exceptions, 'Blue' Washington ranks in the top half of almost all 70-plus individual categories, while "Red' Louisiana is in the bottom half. The B through E values on these graphs are the most heavily weighted topics in the Overall ranking.

Use the dropdown menus below to see how other states across the range of Purples compare to each other, and how they rank in each of those individual areas.

Other Data
Other Data

Looking at Economy

Two Western states, 'Red' Utah and 'Blue' Colorado lead the Economy rankings. The five points on these stars are just a few of the ones that contribute to the larger Economy ranking, and as you can see, it's a tight race. Note that additional data from the BEA, such as GDP and per capita income tell a more complex story.

Take a minute to review and compare some other states to see how their economies are looking.

Other Data
Other Data

Infrastructure by Region

The regions listed below are a mixture of official Census Bureau designations ("The South") and more colloquial designations ("The Coasts"), each of which contain states that might seem off-base to those who know them well — or not at all.

But within these groupings, star points are all over the place, with the individuality of states making almost any attempt at true generalization extremely difficult.

A. Power Grid Reliability
B. Renewable Energy Usage
C. Access to Gigabit Internet
D. Road Quality
E. Public Transit Usage

'In Conclusion'

In the end, the U.S. News and World Reports rankings are just one platform and means for comparing states, and they pull from multiple sources. (You can read more about their methodology via the link in the Sources section below.) Depending on the source, one might paint much different portraits, or define different regions for comparison, and through them find new and unexpected relationships. So on the one hand, the system above can be used to readily create portraits of most any five topics of interest. On another, the exploration points to what many who live in all these purple states already know: there is no 'perfect state,' only perfectly 'flawed' ones.

Sources and Inspiration:

To better understand the methodology behind the Best States platform and the categories utilized, please visit the U.S. News website. Supplementary data was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. (Demographics are from the 2019 American Community Survey 5Year Estimates Datas Profiles) Except where noted, all data is primarily from 2019 numbers.

The initial Purple Value is from the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index

The color scheme and other inspiration come from America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates. You can read more about her life here and check out Ray Charles' doing it justice here.

The background image, featuring amber waves and alabaster-cities-turned-purple-mountains owes no small debt to Agnes Denes' "Wheatfield – A Confrontation" (1982).

©2021 Michael L Kelly : The photo collage at top is a combination of images freely provided by Julien Maculan (Manhattan Skyline) and Eric Prouzet (Wheatfield) via Unsplash.