The states that produce the most Miss America winners

Christopher Ingraham (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Sunday night Kira Kazantsev of New York was crowned Miss America 2015. Setting aside the retrograde and frankly creepy gender politics of pageant culture for the moment, this year marked an unprecedented three straight Miss America wins for New York state. This got me wondering: which states have won the most – and fewest – Miss America competitions?

The Miss America Organization maintains a list of winners. And while some of the geographic breakdown is about what you’d expect, there are some surprises.

For starters, 19 states have never won the Miss America competition. They include Northern plains states like the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, as well as nearly every New England state. In fact there’s only been one Miss America winner from New England in the contest’s 93 year history, and that was Connecticut’s Marian Bergeron in 1933.

On the flip side, you could probably guess some of the winningest states by their population. New York and California have produced six Miss Americas each. Pennsylvania and Illinois have each produced five. Each state only sends one contestant to the pageant per year, so theoretically their odds of winning are the same. But from a practical standpoint, having a larger population gives you a larger talent pool to draw from. Bigger states likely have more competitive state-level competitions, so their odds of producing a contestant with the skills and qualities valued in the national competition is greater.

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But then you get a state like Oklahoma, which has a tenth the population of California but has produced just as many winners. Southern states, like Alabama and Mississippi, also might be overrepresented in the win totals. What gives?

One answer is that beauty pageants are a larger part of the culture in some states than in others. Web searches give some sense of this. The map here shows relative Google search volume for “beauty pageant.” Interest is concentrated more in the Southern states than anywhere else. And disinterest tracks roughly with the lack of Miss America winners in some regions, particularly in the Northern plains states.

Why the strong interest in the South? On the politics of Southern beauty, I’ll leave you to read a New York Times op-ed from professor Blain Roberts — long story short, Southern ideals of beauty have historically been entangled with notions of race and purity in that region.