Andrew Gelman at 538.com posts the following analysis of the average economic and social ideological placements of voters in each of the 50 states:
This data comes from a 2000 Annenburg survey so it’s about ten years old, but it’s still useful and informative. The Y axis plots the placement of the average voter in each state along a social ideological spectrum (higher = conservative) and the X axis plots the position of the average voter along economic lines (right = conservative).
We see that Kentucky is right up near the top of the graph, right under West Virginia. Its placement indicates that the average voter in Kentucky is more socially conservative than voters in all other states except for West Virginia, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Interestingly, however, the average voter in Kentucky falls right in the middle in terms of economic political ideology. If anything, they lean slightly to the left on economic policy. In other words, Kentucky voters are no more conservative nor liberal than the average voter in Indiana, Arizona, Virginia, Minnesota, Maine, or even California in terms of economic policy preferences.
Why might this be? For one, Kentucky unfortunately experiences a lot of poverty — especially eastern Kentucky. Poorer voters stand to benefit more from more liberal economic policies. This also might help explain why Democrats do well in elections for state-level offices but Republicans consistently win in battles for national elected office. State politics tend to focus more on economic issues that directly affect citizens while the battles over social policy, often laden with very symbolic frames and implications, often play out at the national level.
In a separate analysis, Gelman also shows that Kentucky Democrats are more socially conservative than Democrats in just about every other state, but again, middle-of-the-road liberal on economic policy. Kentucky Republicans, for their part, are tied with Delaware Republicans for being more economically liberal than Republicans in any other state. KY Republicans are also more conservative than average for Republicans, but only slightly so.
Another interesting observation from this analysis is that Democrats, no matter where they live, are all fairly united in their economic views, but vary considerably in their social policy preferences (Vermont Democrats, the most socially liberal, while West Virginia Democrats, the most socially conservative). Democrats in KY (and WV, OK, AR) are about as socially conservative as Republicans in blue states like NY, MA, CT, and RI. Republicans also vary considerably by state in both their economic and policy preferences.
Finally, while WV and KY Democrats are more socially conservative than NY and MA Republicans, no state’s Democrats are more economically conservative than any other state’s Republicans. Bottom line: while the parties might overlap in their social policy preferences, they are far more polarized in their economic policy preferences.
It’s also important to note that this is a survey of voters. If all citizens, voters and non-voters alike, were included, we might see slightly different results than those posted above.