Is the ‘California Exodus’ Turning Arizona Blue?

Is the ‘California Exodus’ Turning Arizona Blue?

November 2, 2020

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All these pandemic-era moves could swing a future election.

Overall,household moves among Americans are down this year — and predictions abouta permanent “urban exodus” appear to be overstated. But based on voter registration data, U.S. Census data, and an analysis of searches, migration out of New York and California in the four years since the 2016 election has already reshaped the 2020 political map. Population gains in Arizona and Nevada have come with a larger electorate of Democrats. And if the trends hold, the states may only get bluer.

In the third quarter alone,newly released data shows that 53,000 more users looked for housing outside of California than in it, setting a record high since the site started tracking these metrics in 2017. In New York, 47,000 more users were looking to leave than to move in. (Users were only counted if they looked at 10 listings or more in the metro area, and if those searches made up at least 80% of their browsing history.)

“I noticed that not only was there an acceleration this year, due to the pandemic, of outmigration from California and into places like Arizona, but a striking pattern that was consistent across pretty much everywhere — people leaving blue counties for purple and red counties,” said Taylor Marr, a Redfin economist. Overall, according to Redfinresearch, “6.5% more Americans looked to move to red and swing counties than to blue counties in the second quarter of 2020.”

From the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas are typically the most popular destinations. And New Yorkers showed a tendency to move to Florida — a state that had 22,000 more users looking to move there in the third quarter than leave.

The third-quarter data only reflects people’s desires to move, and won’t map perfectly onto real migration patterns. But it continues a pattern of coastal retreat that’s been in the works for years, Marr says — as evidenced by another Redfin study, released earlier this month, which analyzed voter registration data and population change between November 2016 and September 2020.

In 2019 alone, California lost 200,000 net residents to other states, the largest state-based outmigration record in the U.S. for that year. Meanwhile, Arizona and Nevada saw their populations rise by 91,000 and 43,000 since 2016, respectively. These population swaps have come coupled with changes in political makeup. Since the 2016 election, when President Trump won Arizona with a margin of 91,000 votes, that state has gained 51,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, according to Redfin’s analysis, and 49,000 voters who registered as something other than those two parties. (October polling showed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Bidenleading among independent voters in Arizona this year; more recent polling shows himtied with Trump overall.)

Nevada, once a Republican stronghold, went to Hilary Clinton by 27,000 votes in 2016, but Trump campaigned hard there this fall in an attempt to reclaim the battleground state. In the past four years, Nevada has gained 3,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Still, there was a substantial gain of 96,000 “other” voters in Clark County and Washoe County.

Other Southern states popular with New York transplants got more red over the last four years: Florida added 96,764 more Republicans than Democrats, while North Carolina added 231,000 more for the GOP side. But both states had an even larger uptick in voters registered in some third party, with 319,000 joining each of them, especially in counties that voted Democrat in 2016. “The uptick in ‘other’ voters in Miami and Orlando could be a boon for Democrats, because those cities are more liberal than other parts of Florida,” said Marr in a press release.

One big problem with linking registration and population: Not all the flip-flopping or newly-registered voters  are necessarily new to the state. “It could be that people in Arizona maybe are dissatisfied with Trump and decided to instead register as a Democrat,” Marr told CityLab. “That’s very possible.”

There’s a strong correlation between the county level gains for Democrats or independents and the net change in voters, however, says Marr. And taking Arizona’s Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, as an example, the bulk of the newly registered Democrats who’d come from inside the state were once third-party voters — not Republicans.

Why is there such astrong blue-to-red-state pipeline? For one thing, conservative and swing counties tend to be in more rural or suburban areas, often inland regions with cheaper housing prices, while many progressive voters have been packed into coastal, high-cost cities. Florida’s lack of state income tax has long made it attractive to retirees; even in cities, homes in Nevada and Arizona are more affordable than San Francisco ones.

But Americans are also notorious forself-sorting into geographic areas with like-minded neighbors, which could explain why New York transplants to Florida and North Carolina haven’t translated into the same Democratic lean seen in the West. The New Yorkers most likely to trade the city for the Sunshine State aren’t urban millennials who back progressive candidates, but older voters seeking lower taxes and a warmer climate. “Maybe the politics of the migrant is more representative of the destination, rather than the origin,” says Marr. 

In a way, Marr says, California’s growing influence on Nevada and Arizona could reflect a partisan sorting, too, as these newcomers tend to be moving into already-blue or purple counties. “They’re not Democrats moving into red counties that are totally changing the culture of the pre-existing county,” he said. “Instead, it’s just tipping the scales a little bit in terms of the population distribution.”

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