Americans vote with their feet to find ideological safe spaces

Political views are dictating where people decide to live or work alongside things such as cost of living and job opportunities, sparking talk of a “Great Decoupling” in which Americans sort themselves by ideology and create deeper shades of red and blue pockets across America.

Residents are fleeing high-cost liberal states like California, which has suffered from a population drain for years, for places like Idaho and Texas. Politics isn’t the leading cause but there are signs it is a clincher for conservatives who are fed up with the state’s one-party rule.

In other cases, economic opportunity upends the political makeup of a state or calcifies an ideology within a region. Workers flocking to manufacturing jobs in Texas are hardworking but might not have lofty degrees, bringing a conservative worldview with them and defying oddsmakers who say the Lone Star State is trending blue.

Conversely, an influx of college-educated voters is hitting states such as North Carolina and Georgia — and giving their political DNA a more liberal bent over time.

The conservative group Convention of States Action recently released a survey that found people are increasingly basing where they live on political considerations.

In the poll, which was conducted by Trafalgar Group, more than 4% of independents and Republicans report they moved in the last three years to a new region because it more closely aligned with their beliefs. Around 1% of Democrats reported doing the same

The pollsters said the trend is poised to accelerate, with about 10% of independents and a similar share of Republicans saying they plan to move in the new year to a region that more closely aligns with their beliefs. About 2% of Democrats say they plan to move in the coming year to a place more compatible with their beliefs.

“It has been well documented that there has been a significant exodus of citizens from blue states since the start of COVID. But this incredible data reveals that it is Republicans and independents who have voted with their feet and moved to states more aligned with their values. One of the hidden insights of the 2022 election — the red states got redder, and the blue states got bluer,” said Mark Meckler, president of the Convention of States.

He pointed to Florida, which gained recorded nearly 330,000 new residents during the height of the pandemic from April 2020 to April 2021 and has morphed from a purple state to a GOP stronghold.

Around the same time, Republicans made big inroads in voter registration in Florida, flipping a Democratic advantage in 2018 into a GOP edge of over 350,000 registered voters as of Oct. 31, state data showed.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who resisted stringent lockdown policies, romped to reelection in November and GOP candidates outperformed Republicans elsewhere in the state and made inroads in Democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade County. 

Other states are seeing a single-party takeover. Thirty-seven states have “trifectas” where the same party controls the governor’s mansion, state House and state Senate, with 23 controlled by Republicans and 14 controlled by Democrats, according to Ballotpedia.

It’s the biggest number of trifectas at any point from 1992 to 2021.

One state with single-party control, California, has been losing residents to other states for two decades.

About 7.5 million people have departed since 2010 while only 5.8 million have moved into the state, with low- and middle-income people saying high housing costs are a big factor driving the migration, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Even so, broader political differences about the role of government in society could still be a factor in some migration decisions,” PPIC senior fellows Eric McGhee and Hans Johnson wrote in a recent blog post. “Conservatives feeling unrepresented in state government might be drawn to states that they see as a better ideological fit. For people already inclined to leave California for other reasons, politics might push them to finally pack their bags.”

Texas is one of their top destinations. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, easily won reelection this year despite the oft-reported perception the state is turning blue.

People taking jobs in the chemical and high-tech manufacturing sectors in Texas often don’t have the type of college experience commonly associated with liberals, according to Chuck DeVore, the chief national initiatives officer at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Some of them are hard-working people who didn’t get a four-year degree. From a cultural perspective, that person is more likely to have a pickup truck and hunt and have a conservative worldview,” he said.

Meanwhile, GOP strategists fear an influx of college-educated residents in Georgia will make the state more competitive, politically, and eventually move the state away from the conservative-minded, low-tax, pro-business policies credited with fueling economic growth and attracting the liberal-leaning newcomers.

The state has a Republican governor in Brian Kemp but President Biden knocked the state into the blue column in 2020 two months before Georgia voters opted for two Democratic U.S. senators. One of them, Sen. Raphael Warnock, is locked in a tough runoff election battle with Republican Herschel Walker this month.

An Axios-Ipsos survey from August found 30% of Americans considered moving during the prior six months. While economic concerns were most prominent, social issues and values were a factor, pollsters said.

Republicans were more likely to consider moving to red states (51%) than blue states (20%) or swing states (28%), while Democrats were more likely to consider moving to blue states (48%) than red states (25%) or swing states (27%).

“For the most part, people look to be going to a safe space for them, for their ideological identity,” Ipsos pollster and senior vice president Chris Jackson said at the time.

The new Trafalgar results seemed to back up those findings.

“This is only going to accelerate as we move forward,” Mr. Meckler said. “America is in the midst of the Great Decoupling, as our nation becomes less of a United States and more focus is placed on regional and state policies and values, similar to what we saw at the founding of our country.”

Some analysts aren’t convinced that America’s increasingly divisive politics will result in mass migration. Other factors, including the availability of remote work or family connections, could loom larger.

“I don’t think they’re the main driving force,” said G. Terry Madonna, a senior fellow for political affairs at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. “Some people just have family relatives, they move to be closer to relatives. They want what some have called ‘a better life’ in some of the surveys — that’s also important. I’m not ruling [politics] out completely.”

One new wildcard is abortion access. 

Some states are clamping down on abortion while others consider ballot measures to preserve a broad right to the procedure in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade’s nationwide guarantee of abortion rights.

The Axios-Ipsos poll found “abortion issues” were a driving concern for 24% of Democrats considering a move, compared to 16% of Republicans.

Some employers have expressed reservations about trying to get employees of child-bearing age to relocate to places with new restrictions. However, it does not appear that businesses are pulling up stakes and leaving conservative areas over the issue.

“There’s a lot of huffing and puffing by different corporations but at the end of the day, it’s their fiduciary duty to shareholders to maximize profits. They’re not going to do that by moving their operations to California,” Mr. Devore said.

He said some companies are offering to pay for individual female employees to go out of state for an abortion.

“That’s what you’re seeing,” he said. “That’s how they’re navigating the question.”

• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this story.

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