Millennials are moving away from the big blue cities like NYC, LA, Chicago and San Francisco because they can't afford to live there. But as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson notes, they're moving to bluer urban areas of red states, and that's starting to affect voting patterns in places like NC, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
These movers are U-Hauling to ruddier states in the South and West. The five fastest-growing metros of the past few years—Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, and Orlando, Florida—are in states won by Trump. The other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million that grew by at least 1.5 percent last year were Las Vegas; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Antonio; Tampa, Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee. All of those metros are in red or purple states.
It’s not just liberals moving to the South. After all, movers to Florida are often retirees who fit squarely in the Fox News demo, and some of the people moving from California to Texas are conservatives. But today’s domestic migrants are often college graduates of the exceeding liberal Generations Y and Z. “The current migration to these suburbs is mostly people in their 20s and 30s, or Millennials, who are more diverse and liberal than the rest of the population,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. According to his research, Americans ages 20 to 40 are three times as likely to move as people ages 50 to 70.
This drip-drip-drip of young residents trickling down into red-state suburbs is helping to turn southern metros into Democratic strongholds. (Of course, migration isn’t the only factor pushing these metros leftward, but more on that later.) In Texas, Democrats’ advantage in the five counties representing Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin (the “Texas Five” in the graph below) grew from 130,000 in the 2012 presidential election to nearly 800,000 in the 2018 Senate election.
In Arizona, from 2012 to 2016, Democrats narrowed their deficit in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, by 100,000 votes. Two years later, in the 2018 Senate election, the county swung Democratic, with Democrats gaining another 100,000 net votes.
In Georgia, from the 2012 presidential election to the 2018 gubernatorial elections, the four counties constituting most of Atlanta and its suburbs—Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett—increased their Democratic margin by more than 250,000.
What’s remarkable about these changes isn’t just their size, but their resemblance to Trump’s 2016 margins. Trump won Texas in 2016 by 800,000 votes. He won Arizona by 90,000 votes. He won Georgia by 170,000 votes. If these states’ biggest metros continue to move left at the same rate, there is every reason to believe that Texas, Arizona, and Georgia could be toss-ups quite soon.
As noted above, migration isn’t the only reason southern metros might be shifting to the Democratic Party: Longtime residents may be switching parties in response to Trump, for instance. Republicans have likely hurt themselves by moving further to the right to galvanize their white exurban and rural base, even as their support has thinned in the suburbs and among working-class white women.
But domestic migration is key. Just look at Texas. CNN exit polls for the state’s 2018 Senate election showed that Beto O’Rourke was buoyed by recent movers, winning more than 60 percent of those who had moved to Texas within the past 10 years. At current migration rates, the “Texas Five” counties could easily add another 200,000 votes from 2016 to 2020, putting more pressure on Trump’s margin in the state. A September poll conducted by Univision and the University of Houston found the top-six Democratic presidential contenders all leading Trump in Texas.
Outside of national elections, the blue flood of the Sun Belt could have other political implications, such as more showdowns between blue cities and red states. As The Atlantic’s David Graham has argued, North Carolina’s GOP-led general assembly has waged war against liberal cities such as Charlotte—for instance, by reversing a local ordinance that banned discrimination against LGBTQ people. This sort of state-city showdown could become a regular feature of southern politics. In the past six months, both the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer have run features bemoaning the Californication of northern Texas, with the former noting that “conservatives fear these domestic migrants will bring with them a liberal ideology that would disturb the Texas way of living.”
In 2020, the big three presidential battleground states are no longer Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but Florida, NC, and Wisconsin. Pretty soon, maybe by 2024, that's going to be Florida, Texas, and Georgia.
But don't count out Rust Belt states either. Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and yes, even Ohio, remain important states that Democrats are going to have to find a way to compete in. But they're starting to get a hand from people leaving California and New York for places like Columbus, Philly, Detroit, Madison, and the Twin Cities. Even Iowa and Kansas are getting bluer.
Turns out blue megatropolis areas and their terrible housing markets are actually the thing Democrats needed to be competitive in the Sun Belt and Rust Belt. Who knew?
But don't worry too much about California. Their Republicans are heading for the hills anyway.