Blue Migration Has Not Flipped Red States, Yet


The United States of America is a vast country with a population as diverse as its landscapes. Yet as election after election continues to demonstrate like minded voters tend to congregate in the same living spaces. Each election cycle strategists align their campaigns with simple truths: Democrat voters are primarily concentrated along the coasts and in high density urban centers, Republican voters tend to live in rural communities and in the vast countryside of America. This has been the historical pattern. But could things be beginning to change?  

In recent years, experts have noted the vast migration of Blue voters out of traditionally liberal states and into the outlying suburbs of traditionally Red areas. As noted in The Atlantic, “it is a blue urban exodus, as left-leaning metros in blue states are losing population. The New York City metro area is shrinking by 277 people every day. Other areas bleeding thousands of net movers each year include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Chicago, Boston, and Baltimore—all in states that routinely vote for Democrats by wide margins.” Specifically, it is Millennial Democrats who appear to be leaving many of these coastal cities and heading south in droves.

The Atlantic cites William Frey, a demographer with The Brookings Institution, who notes “The current migration to these suburbs is mostly people in their 20s and 30s, or Millennials, who are more diverse and liberal than the rest of the population.” In his findings, Americans between the ages of 20-40 are roughly three times as likely to move states as those older than them. The most popular destinations for these mostly Millennial transplants are places like Nashville, TN, Austin, TX, Tampa, FL, and Charlotte, NC.

The foregone conclusion presented by articles such as the piece written by The Atlantic is that these recent migration patterns of young liberals into traditionally red states spells big trouble for the Republican party. For those that take this view, particularly regarding federal elections, the increasing range of Democrat voters into hostile territory will mean more purple states and an opportunity to seize new territory. This narrative is especially attractive regarding Presidential elections where the Electoral College has on more than one occasion saved the day for a Republican candidate who lost the popular vote.

But the migration of young liberals may not be having the seismic effect that some publications would like us to believe. For the website, FiveThirtyEight, Republicans may not be in an enviable position in the current demographic outlook in the United States, the migration of blue voters is not overwhelming their traditional strongholds. “The first problem is that the predominant political trend of the past two decades has not been consistently better performance by Democrats, but instead greater polarization across partisan and geographic lines.” Strong Republican performances in elections outside of the Presidential races seems to support their case.

In FiveThirtyEight’s estimation, it is not that this liberal migration is creating purple states from coast to coast, but instead leading to the increased polarization of American politics. “In 1992, when Democrat Bill Clinton beat Republican George H.W. Bush, there were no states — none — where either candidate won by 20 or more percentage points. In 2012, there were 18 of them.” Over time, while some states may ultimately flip, like California, the general trend has been that red states are getting more Republican and blue states are getting more Democrat. In the analysis of relevant data, the site argues that the reason for the increased polarization of the country is that people will migrate to locations with which they more readily identify with the culture and politics. “The patterns can be self-reinforcing. If liberal residents are more likely to leave South Carolina, that means a higher percentage of the ones who remain are conservatives.”

Ultimately, FiveThirtyEight notes what may be the defining reason that increased blue migration has not put the anticipated dent into red states: “Interstate migration is not increasing. Instead, it has been on a downward trend since the 1980s; fewer Americans (as a share of the population) are relocating across state lines than a couple of decades ago.” As long the relative increase of Democrat voters does not overwhelm the margins by which the original population is voting for Republican candidates, they will not flip the state. Texas was a great example from 2020. Pundits hyped Texas a potential upset opportunity for Democrats, only to see Republicans maintain their firm grip on the votes. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a chain of events which may begin to accelerate this phenomenon, and time will tell if the increased exodus out of places like New York and California will tip the scales for Democrats in elections ahead. 

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash

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