Posted on August 27, 2014

The Growing Blue-State Diaspora

Robert Gebeloff and David Leonhardt, New York Times, August 23, 2014

Californians have moved to Colorado and Nevada. Massachusetts natives have moved to New Hampshire. New Yorkers have moved to North Carolina and Virginia–and, of course, have continued moving to Florida.

Over the last few decades, residents of many traditionally liberal states have moved to states that were once more conservative. And this pattern has played an important role in helping the Democratic Party win the last two presidential elections and four of the last six. The growth of the Latino population and the social liberalism of the millennial generation may receive more attention, but the growing diaspora of blue-state America matters as well.

The blue diaspora has helped offset the fact that many of the nation’s fastest-growing states are traditionally Republican. You can think of it as a kind of race: Population growth in these Republican states is reducing the share of the Electoral College held by traditionally Democratic states. But Democratic migration has been fast enough, so far, to allow the party to overcome the fact that the Northeast and industrial Midwest contain a smaller portion of the country’s population than they once did.

The migration helped President Obama win Colorado, Florida and Virginia in both 2008 and 2012. In 2014, the influx of blue-state natives gives Democrats a better chance to win Senate races in Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina, among other places.

The spread of people born in New York State offers a particularly telling example: Of the 20 million Americans alive today who were born in New York, nearly one in six now live in the South. That would have been almost unthinkable 50 years ago, when the share was one in 25.

As part of a recent analysis of migration patterns over the last century, based on census data, we created an index to see how these patterns might be altering the electorate. We started by defining each state as red, blue or purple, depending on whether it voted for only one party or both in the four presidential elections since 2000. The method gave us 10 purple, 18 blue and 22 red states. We then looked at what had happened since 2000 among natives of each kind of state.

The first thing we noticed was a major blue-to-red shift: Since 2000, the blue-born population in red states has grown by almost a quarter, to 11.5 million, or 12 percent of the states’ total population.

The changes in purple North Carolina (where the blue-born population is up an astounding 41 percent since 2000) and Georgia (30 percent) are fairly well-known. Perhaps not as well-known is the migration of blue-staters to South Carolina (39 percent), Utah (34 percent) and Idaho (30 percent). The Southeast and the interior West have become some of the most popular new destinations for American movers. They tend to be less expensive places to live than the Northeast and much of the West Coast.

These changes aren’t happening simply because the national population has grown over the same period, either. In fact, the red-born population in blue states shrank, to 7.3 million from 8.4 million, between 2000 and 2012. Some of this decline stems from the fact that California has become a less popular destination for people from all over the country, in part because of high housing costs. {snip}

Of course, not all blue-state migrants are liberal. And people’s political views can change over time. But enough of the migrants have the views of their home states to have made a difference. It’s no accident that the places in once-red states where migrants have tended to settle–like the Virginia suburbs of Washington, the Research Triangle of North Carolina and the Denver metro area–are the places that have allowed Democrats to overcome huge deficits elsewhere in those states. Many of these migrants are Northeastern Democrats.