7The American Prospect, May - June 1999
Headline: The New Map Of American Politics
Byline: Jonathan Tilove
In 1964 an Orange County man by the name of Ron Rankin helped mastermind the conservative takeover of the California Republican Party. But, after Barry Goldwater's electoral debacle that fall, Rankin says he looked homeward and realized that his devotion to right-wing politics had exacted a cost: "My family life was zilch." So Rankin decided to move with his wife and five children to a quieter place. He wanted a rural community-albeit one within driving distance of an orthodontist. And he also wanted a place that was politically ripe for the hard-right gospel he still intended to be his life's work. "We looked at the constitutions of the various states along the Rockies, from Idaho to New Mexico, and Idaho's constitution was so far backwards by contemporary comparison as to be, in our estimation, ahead of the others."
So in 1965 the Rankins left California for Idaho, and within two years Rankin was among the leaders of an effort to recall Idaho's antiwar Democratic Senator Frank Church. "He was too much like Jane Fonda to be a senator from this state," says Rankin. The recall effort failed, but in 1980 Church, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, narrowly lost re-election in the Reagan landslide. And today, 34 years after arriving in Idaho, Rankin is an influential Republican and an elected official in a state that would no longer elect the likes of a Frank Church. In fact, Idaho-where there are now a mere four Democrats in the 35-member state senate-may be the most lopsidedly Republican and conservative state in what is now the most Republican and conservative region in the nation.
Rankin's story is an extreme but telling example of just why that is so: Ron Rankin moved to a place he thought would be a good fit for his conservative politics. He made the place more conservative by moving there. And that, in turn, made it a more attractive destination for those who share his politics. In the 1990s, Idaho's population has grown by 20 percent-more than all but two states (Nevada and Arizona)-primarily because of the migration to Idaho of folks from other states, particularly California. And this flood tide of newcomers has swept Democrats and even some moderate Republicans out of office. Coeur d'Alene's Kootenai County has about doubled its population since 1985, and among its elected county commissioners is Ron Rankin-onetime gadfly and perennial candidate, and now officeholder.
On the Road Again
Nowhere has this out-migration done the Democrats more good than in California. Immigration is clearly the single greatest factor in the demographic and political transformation of the nation's largest state. But the metamorphosis that is underway has been augmented and accelerated by the departure of those who have left. So far in the 1990s, California gained 2 million people through immigration (mostly Hispanic and Asian) and lost another 2 million people (most of them white) through out-migration to other states. The result, according to census projections, is that there will be not only 3 million more Hispanics and 1.3 million more Asians in California in 2000 than there were in 1990, but also 1.6 million fewer whites. By July of 2001, according to projections by the state of California, the state will be less than half white and nearly a third Hispanic. And while race is by no means a perfect proxy for political affiliation, at this moment in history-and especially in California-it comes pretty close.
When Ron Rankin left Orange County in 1965, it was 90 percent white and it defined the limits of right-wing white Republicanism. Orange County today is less than 57 percent white, and that change has begun to take its political toll. In 1996 Robert K. Dornan, one of the most vitriolic and conservative Republicans in the House, narrowly lost his seat to Loretta Sanchez in a district that had become barely more than a third white. In 1998 Dornan lost by a wider margin, despite his claims to be the "real Latino" in the race because, as he explained it, he opposes abortion and speaks with his hands. He even dedicated his 1998 campaign to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the brown-skinned Virgin Mary of Latino veneration. But Dornan had spent much of the previous two years contesting his 1996 defeat with claims of immigrant voter fraud, and, in political terms, raining on his own typically idiosyncratic celebration of diversity. The ultimate lesson is that when folks like Ron Rankin leave Orange County, bad things happen to folks like Bob Dornan. Rankin's election in Idaho and Dornan's defeat in Orange County were connected. And Dornan's loss was Rankin's gain.
From his perch as the clerk of his Mormon church in Idaho, Rankin could see what was happening. Folks were moving to Idaho and leaving behind Mormon wards (collections of congregations) that were now mostly Vietnamese or Cambodian or Hispanic. "I don't like the use of the term white flight," says Rankin. "It's sort of cultural flight." Back in California, he says, there is "the constant hassle of the clashing of cultures."
Their own Private Idaho
Why has the migration stream [to Idaho] been so skewed to the right? Just consider Idaho's decade in the headlines. There was the 1992 FBI shoot-out with white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge. Aryan Nations has made Hayden Lake its headquarters. (They dream of creating a white homeland in the Northwest.) The Idaho Statesman noted that planning for the Hitler Day parade made the front page of the Jerusalem Post. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Idaho led the West in hate groups per capita. U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth said that blacks and Hispanics don't like Idaho because the weather's too cold. And then there's Ron Rankin, whose most recent cause is making English Idaho's official language. "Rankin's waving the welcome flag," says Mary Lou Reed, "'Come here if you're a white flighter. Come here. We don't have any brown skin here.'"
If all you knew about Idaho was what you read in the papers, and you were trying to decide where to make a new life, how would what you read influence your choice of destinations? "If you were a Californian and you really cared about education and the environment would you go to Idaho? Would you pick Montana? No. You would go to Oregon or Washington, probably Washington," says Reed, who is the mother of Clinton domestic policy chief Bruce Reed. "But, if you're an independent kind of redneck that hates the government and wants lower taxes and to be out here in the open spaces, where the government wasn't going to get you, the Rocky Mountains would look very attractive." And, she says, it's not just obvious crazies. "It's the quiet ones, the silent ones, who may not be out on the fringe but are attracted by the idea of a monoculture and want to get away from diversity."
Rankin dismisses the notion that many people avoid Idaho because of its image as a haven for right-wing extremists. "If people are afraid to come here it certainly isn't evidenced by the in-migration," says Rankin. But the question may be which people. Companies have a hard time recruiting minority candidates. The Idaho Statesman reported last year that North Idaho College could not persuade any person of color to even apply for its presidency. And, while the total black population numbers are so minute as to render census estimates somewhat unreliable, it appears that the black population in Idaho, and in Montana and Wyoming, actually declined sharply in absolute numbers during the booming 1990s. These states are being transformed, it seems, not just by white flight in, but by black flight out as well.
New South, New Sunbelt
Take a look at the early line on reapportionment. Based on the Census Bureau's population estimates for 1998, the Congressional Research Service projects that after the 2000 Census, California, Florida, Georgia, Montana, and Nevada will each gain an additional House seat, and Arizona and Texas, an additional two seats. Meanwhile, Connecticut, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin will each lose a seat, and New York and Pennsylvania will each lose two seats. At first glance this seems like an old story: it is the Sunbelt ascendant, good news for Republicans. But the Sunbelt has changed. In California, all of the population gain is Hispanic and Asian; in Texas, blacks, Asians, but especially Hispanics represent 75 percent of the population gain. In Florida, 62 percent, and Georgia, 54 percent of the population gain is minority. And in Arizona (which has grown 24 percent in the 1990s) and Nevada (which has grown 40 percent), more than 40 percent of the growth is minority, mostly Hispanic. "Republicans are now in a huge bind," says Frederick Lynch, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. "If they want to broaden their base among Latinos they are going to have to dump immigration and affirmative action reform, and that's going to alienate the base."
And what of the future? On one side are those like Texas Governor George W. Bush, who won nearly half the Hispanic vote (albeit against feeble opposition and with low Hispanic turnout) in his recent landslide election by steering clear of issues like affirmative action and immigration, speaking Spanish, and campaigning strenuously for Hispanic votes. (He also received an estimated 27 percent of the black vote.) Similarly, his brother Jeb Bush, just elected governor of Florida, gave Ward Connerly the brush-off when Connerly came by to say he might try to put a Proposition 209-style initiative on the Florida ballot. Connerly, Bush said, "wants a war; I'm a lover."
On the other side are those like Patrick J. Buchanan, who prefer making war to making love, at least politically. Buchanan argues that unless Republicans rally their white base, and move to place a moratorium on immigration, the Republican Party is facing a "demographic death sentence." "If the Republican Party doesn't deal with immigration, in eight to ten years, the Republican Party at the national level may be a permanent minority party," warns Buchanan, who says many immigrants are natural Democrats not only because of race, but because of class. The Bush approach, of course, has generally won the praise of "enlightened" punditry. But up in Idaho, Ron Rankin is not impressed. "That's a gene pool," he says of the Bush brothers, "I wouldn't want to get involved in."
Californians have moved to Colorado and Nevada. Massachusetts natives have moved to New Hampshire. New Yorkers have moved to North Carolina and Virginia ó and, of course, have continued moving to Florida.
Over the last few decades, residents of many traditionally liberal states have moved to states that were once more conservative. And this pattern has played an important role in helping the Democratic Party win the last two presidential elections and four of the last six. The growth of the Latino population and the social liberalism of the millennial generation may receive more attention, but the growing diaspora of blue-state America matters as well.
The blue diaspora has helped offset the fact that many of the nationís fastest-growing states are traditionally Republican. You can think of it as a kind of race: Population growth in these Republican states is reducing the share of the Electoral College held by traditionally Democratic states. But Democratic migration has been fast enough, so far, to allow the party to overcome the fact that the Northeast and industrial Midwest contain a smaller portion of the countryís population than they once did.
Where the New Yorkers Went
The 14 states (and one district) outside New York State where people born in New York represent the largest share of the population
The migration helped President Obama win Colorado, Florida and Virginia in both 2008 and 2012. In 2014, the influx of blue-state natives gives Democrats a better chance to win Senate races in Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina, among other places.
The spread of people born in New York State offers a particularly telling example: Of the 20 million Americans alive today who were born in New York, nearly one in six now live in the South. That would have been almost unthinkable 50 years ago, when the share was one in 25.
As part of a recent analysis of migration patterns over the last century, based on census data, we created an index to see how these patterns might be altering the electorate. We started by defining each state as red, blue or purple, depending on whether it voted for only one party or both in the four presidential elections since 2000. The method gave us 10 purple, 18 blue and 22 red states. We then looked at what had happened since 2000 among natives of each kind of state.
The first thing we noticed was a major blue-to-red shift: Since 2000, the blue-born population in red states has grown by almost a quarter, to 11.5 million, or 12 percent of the statesí total population.
The changes in purple North Carolina (where the blue-born population is up an astounding 41 percent since 2000) and Georgia (30 percent) are fairly well-known. Perhaps not as well-known is the migration of blue-staters to South Carolina (39 percent), Utah (34 percent) and Idaho (30 percent). The Southeast and the interior West have become some of the most popular new destinations for American movers. They tend to be less expensive places to live than the Northeast and much of the West Coast.
These changes arenít happening simply because the national
population has grown over the same period, either. In fact, the red-born
population in blue states shrank, to 7.3 million from 8.4 million, between 2000
and 2012. Some of this decline stems from the fact that California has become a less popular destination for people from all
over the country, in part because of high housing costs. Illinois and Michigan,
states that used to draw migrants seeking economic opportunity, have also
become less attractive.
Of course, not all blue-state migrants are liberal. And peopleís political views can change over time. But enough of the migrants have the views of their home states to have made a difference. Itís no accident that the places in once-red states where migrants have tended to settle ó like the Virginia suburbs of Washington, the Research Triangle of North Carolina and the Denver metro area ó are the places that have allowed Democrats to overcome huge deficits elsewhere in those states. Many of these migrants are Northeastern Democrats.
Colorado has gained twice as many migrants from blue states as from red since 2000, and blue-state expats now make up 12 percent of the population. In North Carolina, blue migration is occurring four times as quickly as migration from red states, and blue-state natives now account for 16 percent of the North Carolina population. (In each case, locally born residents still make up the majority.)
On the flip side, the movement of blue-staters into Texas, Utah and Idaho hasnít helped Democrats as much, in part because many of the migrants are more conservative voters, such as whites from Southern California. Texas and the interior West have also drawn more red-state migrants than states where Democrats have recently won.
Even with the growing blue diaspora, the Democrats face an uphill battle in holding on to the Senate this year. [Our] forecasting model, based on a combination of polls, fund-raising numbers, demographics and other data, gives the Republicans a slightly better than 60 percent chance of winning Senate control in November. And political analysts give Democrats almost no chance of winning the House of Representatives. But perhaps the smartest way to look at these trends is through a long-term prism. Blue-to-red migration has been happening for decades, and there are reasons to think it will continue.
If demographic changes donít overturn the political reality this year, they still may in the future. Consider this: Since 1980, the population of New Yorkers living in New Jersey ó a very common arrangement ó has increased by the same amount as the New York-born population of South Carolina.
Questions: How do demographics explain changing party strength in the different states? What is the evidence? How persuasive is the evidence in explaining and predicting the likely partisan changes for the future.