By Tom Baxter

To see ourselves as others see us: That, presumably was the idea behind a mostly pointless but nevertheless fascinating poll which asked Americans to rate the 50 states in the way polls more often ask about politicians or new auto models.

Georgia came out with a net favorable/unfavorable margin of plus 11, tied with New York. Only 15 states have lower margins, but take heart. A Republican entering the GOP presidential field right now would kill for 31-20 favorable/unfavorable poll numbers.

The survey,  conducted by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., found several of the top vacation destinations were the most favored states. Hawaii was by far the most popular with a net favorable of 44, followed by Colorado (+35), Tennessee (+34), South Dakota (+34) and Virginia (+32).

Democrats really like the president’s birth state, but even Republicans give it a +23 favorable. (Maybe some don’t hold it against Hawaii because they don’t think he’s born there.) When it comes to the states Americans like least, however, politics plays the decisive role.

California’s fame as a tourist spot didn’t keep it from ending up dead last, with a net unfavorable of -17, followed by Illinois (-10), New Jersey (-7), Mississippi (-6) and Utah (-3). Nor did Louisiana’s attractions help it much. It had a net of zero, a little worse than Alabama (+1) and Nevada (+2).

In California’s case, Democrats and Republicans diverge by a whopping 91 percentage points. Far more than is the case with Massachusetts or New York, Republicans seem to view the Golden State as the avatar of big spending and cultural rot. Twelve percent of those in Ronald Reagan’s party thought favorably of the state, compared to 68 percent who view it negatively.

Keep in mind that this poll measures the public’s impressions, not people’s experience necessarily. About most states, they don’t have strong feelings either way.

Georgia’s in that category, with about half of those questioned registering no opinion of the state. It’s definitely viewed as a Red State: only 19 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion, compared to 45 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of independents. People who classify themselves as moderate are the most likely (58 percent) not to be sure what opinion they have of us.

Despite Atlanta’s reputation as a mecca for African-Americans over the past decade or so, there’s a sharp difference between the way African-Americans view the state compared with North Carolina, which was second behind Hawaii in their estimation with a 42-8 favorable/unfavorable.

That’s such a sharp departure from the way African-Americans nationally view most of the other Southern states, it bears some pondering. Only 16 percent of African-Americans view Georgia favorably, with 24 percent holding a unfavorable opinion and 60 percent who aren’t sure. (Interestingly, considering its recent passage of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, Hispanics nationally are slightly more likely to view Alabama favorably than whites, and much more than African-Americans.)

It’s quite likely the deepest personal experience most Americans have had with Georgia is either shuffling between terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson, or barreling down Orange-Barrel Alley on the way to Florida (+22, by the way.) So this poll is much less worrisome than the survey which found average Georgians in the most vulnerable financial shape in the country. But as the state struggles to rebound from recession, the way we’re seem by others does matter.

It would be interesting to see how Atlanta would stack up these days in a similar poll about cities.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern...

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