Why Do People Think There Are 52 States? (5 Reasons Why)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

If you ask most people how many states make up the United States, you’ll get “50” in response. But there is a growing sect of people who believe there are, in fact, 52 states.

Why is that? We decided to get to the bottom of this trend once and for all. So here are 5 reasons people believe there are 52 states.

Why Do People Think There Are 52 States?

1. Puerto Rico And Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean. Both are “non-contiguous” states, meaning they are not physically connected to the rest of the United States.

You might wonder what the difference is between these islands and Hawaii. After all, Hawaii is also located in the Pacific Ocean and considered a non-contiguous state.

The difference lies in the fact that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are both considered to be “unincorporated territories” of the United States.

This means that they are not fully autonomous and are still subject to the jurisdiction of the United States government. As a result, many people believe that these islands should be considered states.

After hearing about the inclusion of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, some people probably confused the news and now believe them to be official states.

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2. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States and is located on the East Coast, between Maryland and Virginia. While it is not its own state, many people believe it should be.

Washington, D.C., has a long and storied history. While Washington D.C. was being built, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, originally served as the capital of the United States until 1790.

However, it was not until 1871 that it was officially recognized as a city. Since then, Washington, D.C. has been the scene of many significant historical events, including the Civil War, the Watergate scandal, and the September 11th attacks.

It’s possible that since Washington, D.C., has such a long and rich history, people believe it is its own state.

It is also possible that when people hear “Washington,” they assume it must be its own state. After all, George Washington was the first President of the United States and is one of the most influential men in American history.

3. Native American Territories

Native American Territories

There are a number of Native American tribes that have their own sovereign territories within the United States. While these areas technically are not states, some believe they should be part of the total number.

These territories likely confuse many people. After all, the United States has a long history of Native American genocide and displacement.

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So it’s understandable that people might not be familiar with the concept of sovereign Native American territories.

Moreover, these territories are not always recognized by the United States government.

For example, the federal government does not recognize the sovereignty of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, even though the Supreme Court of Canada does.

4. Hawaii Not A State?

Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States, but some people believe it was never actually a part of the country. This is because Hawaii was an independent kingdom until the United States annexed it in 1898.

In 1959, the Union officially admitted Hawaii as a state. Still, some people get confused and believe that Hawaii is its own country, thus mixing up what states make up the United States.

Hawaii is a beautiful state, and it’s understandable why people might confuse it for being its own country.

Moreover, the Hawaiian islands are in the Pacific Ocean, which might make people believe they are not part of the United States.

5. Poor Education

A popular trend on social media sites like YouTube features Americans interviewed on the streets. Many questions are on the topic of countries, states, cities, and capitals.

What was once common knowledge appears to be a thing of the past. Many can’t correctly name capitals in their own states. Moreover, the number of states in the United States is a question also featured on occasion.

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Interestingly, foreigners appear to get the answer correct more so than natives. What does this say about our nation’s education system?

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why Chinese is so hard to learn, why public schools are so bad, and why Asian people are good at math.


There are many reasons why people might think there are 52 states in the United States. These include confusion over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Washington, D.C., Native American territories, Hawaii, and poor education.

While the correct number of states is 50, it’s understandable why people might believe there are 52.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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