Good News: 'Blue State Diaspora' Is 'Overstated,' Not Turning Red States Blue

Posted: Sep 03, 2014 5:45 PM

Blue state residents are moving to red states, but maybe the results won’t resemble anything close to a conservative Armageddon. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Harry Enten and Nate Silver said, “It’s a fascinating hypothesis, but it’s overstated, in our view.” While they admit the process of their analysis isn’t perfect, Enten and Silver noted that the balance of power remains “reasonably equivocal,” especially over the long term. If anything, they argue that migration rates have only contributed to a more polarized electorate.

So, here’s what these guys have to say about the Blue-State Diaspora premise:

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. Remember, the GOP controls the House of Representatives, a plurality of state legislatures and a majority of governor’s mansions, and Republicans are slight favorites to take the Senate in November. Democrats have done well in recent presidential elections, but if Republicans take the Senate and hold the House, then by 2016 the GOP will have had control of the Senate for 12.5 of the past 24 years and the House for 18 of 24.

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. Many people moving from a liberal state to a conservative state may be conservative, or may at least end up that way before long. People moving from a conservative state to a liberal state may be liberal.

If anything, movers generally have more extreme political views than natives: Those people moving to the West Coast or New England, for example, are more liberal than people who grew up there. Thus, the process of intra-country migration could be contributing to political polarization rather than making states more purple.

Enten and Silver used the General Social Survey as the basis in finding the percentage of who is liberal since the GSS asks respondents, their political leanings, where they live, and how long they lived there since 16 years of age.

But, Enten and Silver noted that this data isn’t perfect. It doesn’t get too in-depth at the state level–and there isn’t a 100% accurate overlay in political regions. Still, they’re able to determine that “movers have more in common with their new neighbors; liberals are attracted to liberal regions, and conservatives to conservative regions. As the next plot shows, the politics of long-term residents correlates reasonably well with the politics of new residents.” Overall, movers tend to be more politically aligned with their long-term neighbors.

The relationship isn’t perfect (the correlation coefficient is .62), but the trend is reasonably clear. For example, the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions have relatively liberal long-term residents and relatively liberal new residents; the West South Central and East South Central divisions have conservative long-term residents and conservative new residents.

Even the New York Times’ Upshot piece, which laid out this idea, said that not every person fleeing a blue state is a bleeding heart liberal. Case in point, Silver and Enten noted that a lot of blue state folks have gone to South Carolina, but still voting reliably Republican. From all accounts, the Palmetto State will continue to support the Republican Party.

So, take what you will from both of these analyses. One says a political shift could occur through these migrations, while another says the only result will be a more polarized electorate. At the same time, the Upshot piece makes a good case that blue state migrations contributed to Obama winning Colorado, Virginia, and Florida in 2008 and 2012. Yet, Republicans also picked two very flawed candidates that ran rather lackluster campaigns in both of those elections.