When You Say Oklahoma...

Tuesday, February 6th 2007, 2:25 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A 1943 Broadway musical was the first thing Americans thought of when they heard the word Oklahoma, a national survey released Tuesday found.

The popular Rodgers and Hammerstein show, "Oklahoma!" edged out the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing in a Zogby International online poll of nearly 21,000 Americans who were asked what they thought of the state.

Americans also picked oil and natural gas wells, Oklahoma college football, American Indians and wide open spaces, among others, in the word-association question. Rednecks, John Steinbeck's novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," cowboys and tornadoes were farther down the list of top responses.

"They call us a flyover state, people don't necessarily come through here on their way anywhere," said Dick Rush, president and chief executive officer of The State Chamber of Oklahoma, which sponsored the poll. "That reality is part of our challenge."

The second part of the survey, which was e-mailed to respondents selected from a random sample of 100,000 likely voters, involved how Americans viewed the state. Nearly half of those who took the survey said they had a favorable view of Oklahoma, while 17 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.

Most striking, said polling officials, was that one in three Americans weren't familiar enough with Oklahoma to make a decision.

"Oklahoma has an opportunity to tell its story ... from scratch," said Zogby, speaking at a Tuesday news teleconference. "To some degree, just by way of asking two very simple questions, the state chamber has a pretty decent direction to begin to discuss what that story might be in its targeted form and how best to tell that story."

Voters on the East Coast in particular were not familiar enough to make a judgment, the poll found.

Oklahoma got better ratings among smaller-city voters who tend to be more conservative, frequent Wal-Mart shoppers, NASCAR fans and people who live with an armed forces veteran, according to the poll.

The highest favorable rating came from "the investor class," or business owners and venture capitalists, which gave Oklahoma a more than 50 percent favorable rating.

Zogby, who has conducted similar polling in other states, said he did the poll for free after a visit to Oklahoma City last year to speak at the chamber. After a dinner discussion where colleagues tried in vain to come up with what Oklahoma's image was, the idea for the survey was born.

The chamber plans to work with Zogby on a more in-depth national poll, Rush said.

"The ball's in our court, it's our time to take it and run with it," said Ike Glass, chairman of the state chamber.

The poll ran from Dec. 8 through Dec. 12. The margin of error is plus or minus 0.7 percentage points.