Internal Migration & Political Self-Sorting: What to Make of Trend?


Boise, Idaho ( Sean Pavone/Getty Images)

Boise, we have a problem.

The good news is that most of them aren’t going too far.

People are moving out of Manhattan and San Francisco, but about half of those Manhattan exiles went no farther than Brooklyn or the Hamptons, and most of the former San Franciscans moved to a new home no more than 60 miles away from the old one.

Containment is holding, for now.

But it’s not just the big Democrat-run cities in blue states that are bleeding population — so are the big Democrat-run cities in red states. In fact, other than New York County (Manhattan), the three counties that have lost the most population during the plague all have been in Texas: Travis County (Austin), Dallas County (Dallas), and Harris County (Houston). I have lived in all of those counties (and Manhattan, too), and they all have their charms — but I can also see a solid case for leaving them, especially if you are a family with children and one or more adults working from home, and if that home is assessed at a high enough price to intensify the pain of Texas cities’ rapacious property taxes. For many Americans, city life has lost much of its luster.

Meanwhile, somebody needs to hang a big sign on the interstate outside Ramey, Idaho: “No Vacancy.

Here’s the best-kept secret of American cities: They are all alike, for the most part. People talk about the theater and the restaurants in New York, and they are not wrong to do so — but most New Yorkers never go to the theater, and there are no fewer than three TGI Fridays in Manhattan alone, none of which lack customers. American cities are full of Americans, and there are only little pockets of distinctiveness in them: Moving to New York City is not the same as moving into a Woody Allen film, and moving to Dallas is not the same as moving to Dallas. But there is a great, stupid, romantic notion — and I am more guilty of indulging it than anyone — that moving to a new place will make you a new person. That is, for obvious reasons, encoded in the American DNA. But we never really change.

And that is what worries a certain kind of Texan about all the Californians landing here, and a certain kind of West Texan about all the Austinites landing there. One point five million relatively stable American dollars for a house in Marfa, Texas? A half-million for an undeveloped desert plot outside Fort Davis? That ain’t right.

But it’s not really the economic changes that are spooking people.

The usual maxim here in Texas is that people pulling U-Hauls from California are welcome to bring their worldly goods as far as they like as long as they leave their Californian politics in New Mexico, which already has them. There are more than a few Texans who believe that we are building a wall along the wrong river — that it’s the Red River that needs fortifying, and that our westernmost city should have its name changed to: “Prohibido El Paso.

In reality, there is some reason to believe that the median Californian relocating to Texas is more conservative (or at least more likely to be registered as a Republican) than the median Texan. But we have seen this kind of thing before: Powered in no small part by moneyed coastal refugees, the clout of the Denver-Boulder-Aspen axis eventually came to dominate all of Colorado politics. A similar story has played out in Arizona. Florida always seems to be about one 8:10 a.m. LGA-MIA flight from being permanently New Jersified.

But it may be that people are taking the Texans’ advice — that we are sorting ourselves by geography and politics even more thoroughly than we had before. A Boise real-estate agent tells CNN: “I had people calling me, primarily from California and Washington, and they would say, ‘I just have to get out.’ We are a conservative state and people are attracted to that.” In the same CNN report, newly arrived Idahoans cite disruptive protests, crime, and vagrancy — the familiar condition of big blue cities — as their motives for moving. Some cite “the political environment” specifically.

Is that kind of self-conscious political sorting a good thing?

In Henderson, Nev., the booming suburb outside Las Vegas, several high-end real-estate deals fell through after the election, with certain conservative buyers changing their minds about moving to a blue state. That we cannot bear the thought of living in the same communities as people who do not share our politics doesn’t seem to me to indicate anything healthy about our national culture. Yes, we are all familiar with the ancient cliché of small-town progressives finally arriving on the blessed shores of California, liberated at last from the suffocating rustic bigotry of their conservative communities — and now we have the new cliché of California conservatives finally arriving at the green lawns of small red-state towns, liberated at last from the suffocating urban bigotry of their progressive communities.

Part of me thinks this is a terrible trend for the country. Another part of me thinks St. George, Utah, is awfully nice this time of year.





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