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Blue-State Migrants Probably Aren't Turning Your State Blue

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States like Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Colorado are experiencing an influx of migrants from other states. Often, these migrants come from so-called blue states like New York, California, and Illinois — all of which are sending more people to other states than they are receiving in return.

[RELATED: "Americans Continue to Flee to Low-Tax States"]

The result is, in many cases, a net movement of Americans from the more leftist "blue states" to the more conservative "red states."

In response, many residents of these recipient red states complain as follows: "the great irony is that all those people who move here are turning our state blue because they vote just like they did back in their home states!"

Other than a handful of anecdotes, evidence is rarely presented to support this theory. The sentiment, however, is based in two main assumptions:

1. The people who move to the red states from blue states share the opinion of the majority of voters back home.

2. A majority of the people moving to the red states are from blue states.

The first assumption was disputed byHarry Enten andNate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, who

Silver and Enten note that "People who leave an area don’t necessarily resemble the ones who stay. Instead, there’s evidence that migrants’ political beliefs mirror those of voters in their new destination." This can be seen in the census data which shows, for example, that 18 percent of people who moved to the West South Central census region (which is primarily Texas) identified as "liberal" while 28 percent of those who moved away identified similarly.

The authors conclude: "the data is enough to suggest that the people moving away from a region are ideologically distinct from those who continue to live there." In fact, the larger trend may be that described in Bill bishop's book The Big Sort which concludes that Americans are increasingly sorting themselves into regions, states, and neighborhoods of more homogeneous ideological views.

So, the assumption that everyone who moves away from New England (where only 23 percent of people who move away identify as liberal), marches in lock step with the median voter back home may be less than accurate.

This is all highly fluid survey data, of course, but proponents of the "they're-turning-our-state-blue!" won't find much help here, and this is why they largely rely on scattered anecdotes.

The second assumption is more easily called into question:" A majority of the people moving to the red states are from blue states."

To examine this, we need only look at how many migrants flowed into each state from red or blue states.

Using the Census Bureau's most recent data on state-to-state migration flows (2017) — and defining red and blue states according to presidential votes in 2016 — we get the following1:


Here we see that quite a few states assumed to be turning blue (or which have supposedly already been turned blue) by migrants actually get more people from red states than from blue states. Texas, for example, in this 2017 sample, received nearly 56 percent of its migrants from red states. While in Colorado, almost 57 percent came from red states.

The numbers here depend heavily on how we define red or blue states, however. Is it always a good idea to define a state's "blueness" based on presidential votes? Quite a few states that are regarded as thoroughly blue in terms of presidential elections are also known to elect Republican governors. New Mexico, for example, elected a Republican governor twice in the past decade. Michigan, considered to be part of the "blue wall" until 2016, has done the same.

In fact, in the period from 2012 to 2016, several states regarded as blue states either elected or re-elected Republican governors, including Michigan, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

Given that the census data we're using is 2017 data, what if we define a state's blueness on gubernatorial votes from 2012 to 2016? If we do this, red state migrants are an even bigger slice of the pie in several states2:


We could, of course, define red and blue states using other metrics. After the 2008 election, several states removed GOP governors in favor of Democrats, and this would shift these numbers more in favor of showing majority migrations from blue states.3

Ultimately, though, there are three things to keep in mind:

It should not just be assumed that people migrating from other states approve of the politics back in those states. After all, if they were so pleased with things back home, why did they leave behind friends and family in order to re-locate?

Secondly, it should not be assumed that a majority of new migrants are coming in from blue states.

Thirdly, it's not always obvious whether a state is a blue state or a red state.

Many observers, of course, might insist that they can see their state becoming more inclined toward the left with every election. This may or may not be the case, but if one is searching for a reason behind this, it may be helpful to remember that high schools, colleges, and universities have an enormous impact on the ideologies of students and the society at large. Meanwhile, about 3.6 million students will graduate from American high schools this year. 90 percent of them will graduate from public high schools. And nearly two million college students will graduate will bachelors degrees this year. And, of course, there is the issue of international migration.

When it comes to home-grown ideology, though, Little Johnny Philosophy Major from your local college may make your neighbor from Illinois look like Ronald Reagan by comparison. 

  • 1. Red and blue states are defined based on the 2016 presidential results: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_United_States_presidential_election
  • 2. Although Alaska had an "Independent" governor at this time, I have included Alaksa as a red state. See: http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-2018-governor-race-results.html
  • 3. These 2017 numbers are admittedly just a snapshop, but broader measures hardly show a wave of blue migrants into many states assumed to be overwhelmed by blue-state migrants.  For example, in an article by Robert Gebeloff and David Leonhardt in the New York Times titled "The Growing Blue-State Diaspora." Gebelhoff and Leonhardt used place-of-birth data to show that growing proportions of the populations in red states are born in what are now regarded as blue states.

    But the totals in many cases remain unimpressive. In Colorado (using the 2012 numbers Gebelhoff and Leonhardt use), only 6 percent of Coloradans were born in California. Meanwhile, seven percent were born in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska combined.
    Moreover, Gebelhoff and Leonhardt admit that "the movement of blue-staters into Texas, Utah and Idaho hasn’t helped Democrats as much, in part because many of the migrants are more conservative voters, such as whites from Southern California."

Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is executive editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Breaking Away: The Case of Secession, Radical Decentralization, and Smaller Polities and Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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