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Migration Myths and Political Change

Newcomers from liberal states don’t always tilt their new homes to the left. It’s the reason why migration politics is more complex than people give it credit for.

“California migration turned Colorado blue.” That sums up a common belief about how domestic (as well as international) migration plays out politically. It’s assumed that people moving out of big blue states like California, New York and Illinois turn out to be a political Trojan horse for their receiving Sun Belt red states. Eventually, as in Colorado, this migration would flip those states to blue.

But it hasn’t necessarily worked out that way.

A few years ago, Democrats were salivating over the prospect of turning Texas blue. That still might end up happening, but as of now, as the Daily Beast reports, Democrats “just hope to stop the bleeding.” California migrants to Texas are polling 57 percent conservative vs. only 27 percent liberal. In the 2018 Senate race between the Democrat Beto O’Rourke and the GOP incumbent Ted Cruz, Cruz won newcomers to Texas by a much larger margin than natives, 15 points for migrants vs. only three points for natives.

There was also a major and unexpected shift of Hispanic voters in the state toward the Republican party. Texas may someday turn blue, but migration from California has not produced the inevitable blue turn that some expected. Texas seems to have actually shifted in a redder direction recently. Cruz barely beat O’Rourke in 2018, 50.6 percent to 48.3 percent. But when O’Rourke ran for governor in 2022, Greg Abbott beat him by a solid 54.8 percent to 43.9 percent.

Similar shifts have happened in Florida. A swing state nationally, Florida has been Republican at the state level for some time. Still, Democrats historically had an edge in registered voters. But there was a huge shift toward Republicans during and in the wake of the pandemic, as the policies of Gov. Ron DeSantis proved very popular among national Republicans and made him a presidential contender. Long a major recipient of newcomers, Republicans passed Democrats in registered voters in Florida in December 2021 and had a 383,954 advantage by December 2022, which rose to 436,990 by this March.

Florida is one state where there was a huge red wave in the 2022 midterms. In the 2000s, Pew Stateline observed that Florida was a purple state trending bluer. They noted that Cubans were starting to trend Democratic, and that there was an influx of Puerto Ricans who had traditionally voted Democratic. Now Florida looks more like a red state.

Migration is also upending traditional Republican politics in entrenched red states such as Idaho and Montana. Migration has brought an influx of new conservative voters with a different profile and orientation. They are more highly educated, often have professional class jobs or significant financial assets, and are coming from blue states like California and Washington. Having lived under liberal hegemony, they are eager to support a conservative one in their new states, with a posture that’s aggressive and more explicitly anti-liberal.

The Religion News Service has written about the influx of “Christian Nationalists” into North Idaho. The use of that term reveals the hostile posture of the article, which was funded by an atheist activist. Nevertheless, it gets at a real phenomenon of militant conservatives moving in. This has begun shifting the state’s political institutions even further to the right. For example, a group of more aggressive conservative voters managed to gain control of the board of North Idaho College and are attempting to remake it completely.

The New York Times got into the political migration game when it ran a story arguing that Montana had “taken a hard right turn.” Republicans have, according to The Times, “managed to secure an ironclad grasp over state government, and the religious right is ascendant.” The Times perspective is not the only one. A viral Substack post argues that “there’s gonna be a war in Montana” caused in part by an influx of high-income liberals into Bozeman and other towns putting the squeeze on locals of more modest means. How things sort out politically in a thinly populated state like Montana, where it doesn’t take many newcomers to make a big difference, is yet to be seen. But so far it seems to be working in favor of the more conservative Republicans.

These examples show that migration, even from California, doesn’t necessarily turn states blue. That’s not to say that some red states won’t flip in that direction as a result of migration. Georgia might well do it. Atlanta is America’s premier Black mecca, and Black population growth there has surely contributed to a shift toward the Democrats in that state, which supported Joe Biden in 2020 and now has two Democratic U.S. senators.

But migration politics is more complex than people give it credit for. Locals in conservative states might expect that blue-state migration would create more liberal pressures. But as we see from Idaho and Montana, it may well be that even highly educated migrants from blue states can bring a more aggressive brand of conservatism with them. In some cases, migration makes red states redder, and lends a more strident cast to their politics.

An urban analyst, consultant and writer. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @aaron_renn.
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