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Virginia ranks 8th among the 50 states for overall freedom, according to a study by George Mason University Mercatus Center. Analysts examined a wide range of public policies and categories to create an index that measures both personal and economic freedoms.
The authors admit that views vary about what constitutes freedom, so they posted the raw data online to enable other analyses. Co-author and assistant professor of political science Jason Sorens, from the University of Buffalo, ranks Virginia 6th in economic freedom.
"It's generally a fairly low-tax state, and that's the reason it scores well on fiscal policy," says Sorens. "On regulatory policy, the state tends to provide an environment favorable to new business and investment."
Sorens says states don't split along conventional ideologies since states that are permissive in such policies as marijuana use may be less free in others, such as smoking tobacco. But he says Virginia ranks 38th in personal freedom, including gambling, motorist, and helmet laws.
"Virginia has fairly harsh penalties for people who buy, sell, or possess marijuana," he says. "Virginia also does rather badly on alcohol laws in our index because of state liquor stores."
He adds that Virginia and states with greater economic freedom and growth are attracting people from other states.