Why Nine Of Gallup’s 11 Worst U.S. Cities Are In Red States, And Some Fun Facts About These Cities

Dauphin Street in the second most miserable city in the U.S. according to a 2013 Gallup Poll. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

One would never know from just looking at this picture of Dauphin Street that Mobile, AL is the third most miserable city in the U.S. according to Business Insider. Photo from Commons.Wikimedia.Org.

Gallup released the results of their annual “Well-Being” poll last week, and revealed that nine of the United States’ 11 most unhappy metropolitan areas are located in Red States, and eight are located in the South. In general, western, midwestern, and northeastern states scored highest on Gallup’s Well-Being Index, and southern states scored the lowest. This should come as no surprise to political junkies, considering that red states — southern red states in particular — favor conservative policies that tend to increase poverty and encourage discrimination, and that poverty and discrimination have a tendency to make people miserable.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score averages respondent’s ratings for various factors that contribute to happiness and well-being, including:  emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The lowest possible score is 0, and the highest possible score is 100.

Gallup Poll's 11 most miserable cities

The 11 worst-scoring metropolitan areas on Gallup’s Well-Being Index (chart from Gallup).

  • The following 11 metropolitan areas scored worst on Gallup’s Overall Well-Being Index: Utica-Rome Metro, NY; Spartanburg, SC; Rockford, IL; Evansville, IN-KY Metro; Bakersfield, CA; Fort Smith, AR-OK; Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC Metro; Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX Metro; Mobile, AL; Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH; and Charlestown, WV.
Gallup Well Being Poll - 11 Best Cities

The 10 top-scoring metropolitan areas on Gallup’s Well-Being Index. (chart from Gallup)

  • In contrast, the following 10 metropolitan areas scored highest: Lincoln, NE; Boulder, CO; Burlington, VT; Provo-Orem, UT Metro; Fort Collins-Loveland, CO Metro; Barnstable Town, MA; Honolulu, HI; Ann Arbor, MI; Washington, DC Metro; and San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA Metro.

Although a couple of the cities in the Top 10 skew conservative (most notably, Lincoln, NE and Provo, UT), Gallup speculates that factors associated with progressive policies contribute to people’s overall feelings of well-being in the higher rated metropolitan areas:

The behaviors and choices occupants of high wellbeing cities make also distinguish them from their low wellbeing counterparts, and can serve as a good example for the leaders of other cities to pursue in their own communities. For example, residents of high wellbeing cities exercise more, but their leaders also create more safe places for people to go to exercise. They eat more fruits and vegetables, but their leaders also establish safer, more readily accessible places to access their produce. They are more likely to have health insurance and to go to the dentist, but they also have leaders who help ensure that all have enough money for healthcare. And residents in high wellbeing cities are less likely to carry sadness on any given day, but also live in communities where their leaders afford them more opportunities to learn and do interesting things. The fact that many of the highest wellbeing cities continue to be university towns or cities with a robust academic presence may not be a coincidence, given the potential that local colleges can have on the local culture of wellbeing.

Some interesting facts about our eleven worst cities:

Edward Bellamy11. Utica-Rome, NY: Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), the socialist Christian minister and author of “The Pledge of Allegiance,” died and was buried in Rome, NY. Would today’s conservatives be so quick to recite the Pledge, if they knew about Bellamy’s pro-labor sermons? (Scored 63.4 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Palmetto Moonshine10. Spartanburg, SC: Top cultural attractions include the Palmetto Moonshine Distillery, and Bob Jones University’s Museum and Gallery, in nearby Greenville, SC, where visitors can peruse the  “largest collection of religious art in the Western Hemisphere.” (Scored 63.4 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Rockford, IL, Sock Monkey9. Rockford, IL: Rockford, IL is home to the original sock monkey. According to Wikipedia, John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant, patented a knitting machine in 1869, then began manufacturing the still-popular toy shortly after.   (Scored 63.1 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Svetlana Stalin, Evansville, IL8. Evansville, IN-KY: Famed architect William Wesley Peters (1912-1991) studied at the University of Evansville, and was married to Svetlana Alliluyeva — the youngest daughter of Joseph Stalin — for three years. (Scored 63.1 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Tom Hanks in Castaway7. Bakersfield, CA: The porta-potty that washed up on the shore in Tom Hanks’ movie, Cast Away, has a label with “Bakersfield” written on the side. Hanks’ character Chuck Noland reads, “Bakersfield? Bakersfield! Bakersfield!” (Scored 63 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Miss Laura's Social Club6. Fort Smith, AK-OK: Fort Smith takes great pride in its wild west history. Their visitor’s center is located in a former (and lovingly restored) bordello named “Miss Laura’s Social Club.” Y’all come back now, y’heah? (Scored 62.9 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Hickory Tavern, Hickory, NC5. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC: According to Wikipedia, Henry Robinson built a tavern out of logs back in the 1850’s and named it Hickory Tavern. A town grew around it, and its name was shortened to “Hickory.” This small city, and its neighbors in Lenoir and Morganton, have a combined population of 365,497. (Scored 62.7 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

An Oil gusher in the Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX metro area4. Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX: Area attractions include the Texas Energy Museum (sponsored by … guess who?), and the Gator Country Theme Park. No wonder these folks proudly proclaim themselves as “Texas With A Little Something Extra.” (Scored 62.5 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Hank Aaron, born in Mobile, AL3. Mobile, AL: Henry “Hank” Aaron, the baseball legend, was born here on February 5th, 1934. U.S. Navy Flag Officer David Farragut famously said, “Damn the Torpedos, full speed ahead!” during the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. (Scored 62.4 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)2. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s from Kentucky and House Majority Leader John Boehner‘s from Ohio. Need we say more? As for West Virginia, some of that wretchedness is bound to bleed over the shared borders of this sprawling metropolitan area. (Scored 61.2 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)

11 Worst Cities, Charleston, WV, Capitol building1. Charleston, WV: When the State of Virginia — and its fellow Confederate States — seceded from the United States in 1861, West Virginia seceded from Virginia and the Confederacy. According to the  West Virginia Legislature‘s web site, Abraham Lincoln admitted West Virginia into the union in 1863 by proclamation — after which, the state Capitol was located in Wheeling, then moved to Charleston, then returned to Wheeling, and finally flipped back to Charleston.  (Scored 60.8 out of 100 on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.)


AUTHOR’S NOTE — APRIL 2nd, 2013:

This is to address a couple of feedback items I’ve received from readers via comment threads on Being Liberal’s facebook page:

  • Conservative vs. progressive cities: Some readers asked about the correlation between Republican/conservative mayors and city councils for low-ranking cities, and Democratic/progressive mayors and city councils for high-ranking cities on Gallup’s Well-Being Index. While the correlation is definitely strong, it is far from absolute. The local economy is definitely a factor, which could explain why Utica, NY — which suffers from high unemployment — scores poorly despite having a Democratic mayor. College towns tend to have more amenities and higher rates of employment, even when the city and its largest higher educational institution is conservative and religiously-oriented. This might explain why Provo, Utah, — which Wikipedia refers to as “the most conservative city in the United States with a population of over 100,000” — ranks in the top 10. The city is home to Brigham Young University, which is run by the Mormon Church.
  • Forbes Magazine’s “America’s Most Miserable Cities” list: Readers — conservative trolls readers in particular — keep referring to a similar slide show article from Forbes magazine with a totally different list of cities, like Detroit and Flint, MI (a resurgent automobile industry likely kept them off Gallup’s bottom 10 this year) and New York City (c’mon, Manhattan’s full of jaded hipsters and emo kids, for pete’s sake … it’s their JOB to be “miserable”). Only Rockville, IL also made their cut. I glanced over Forbes‘ alternative bottom 10 while researching this article, but couldn’t include their data, because … they didn’t appear to have any data. The article provided no citations or explanation of the methodology and data used — unlike Gallup, which interviewed thousands of respondents nation-wide, throughout metropolitan statistical areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. As far as I can tell, the pro-wealth folks at Forbes simply listed a bunch of cities with reputations for having high taxes and lots of low income people of color, and called it a day.

Elisabeth Parker Elisabeth Parker is a writer, Web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante. Come visit her at ElisabethParker.Com, “like” her on facebook, “friend” her on facebook, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Pinterest boards. For more Addicting Info articles by Elisabeth, click here.