Americans may move close to home to be near politically like-minded residents

How far are Americans willing to move to be in a political environment they are comfortable with? Fewer may move to other countries or other states compared to those who move within a county or region to find residents or communities with similar political views:

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“This idea of ‘red state versus blue state’ misses a great deal of heterogeneity within states, as well as clusters and spatial patterns that occur within states,” said Ryan Strickler, a political scientist at Colorado State University, Pueblo. “Instead, we’re seeing more of a micro level of political sorting.” …

[E]xperts say the more significant phenomenon is people moving within the same state where they can find others who are politically like-minded. These migrations aren’t about specific political outcomes like the Dobbs decision. Instead, they’re linked to social polarization. “There’s a lot of local reshuffling,” said Alexander Bendeck, a Ph.D. student in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing.

In one of his current projects, Bendeck explores U.S. relocation patterns in the 2010s, using population migration data from the IRS to track the number of migrants between counties nationwide. Bendeck recognized the shift in migration from the coasts to the South or Midwest but also emphasized the effects of moving within metropolitan areas. Many natives of major Southern cities have moved out to the suburbs or to smaller cities. And the locals of those suburbs or cities move to more rural areas or even smaller cities.

But there’s a huge caveat to any migration data: It is impossible to attribute all instances of relocation, even within the same state, to politics. In fact, politics has not been a major factor why most Americans have moved in recent history, Strickler said. Instead, migration is more financially driven, whether people are seeking out a lower cost of living, better job prospects or proximity to family. 

I would be very interested in seeing more data on this micro-sorting within region. As noted in this piece, regions are often broken up this way: denser cities at the core vote more Democratic, far-flung suburbs vote more Republican, and in-between suburbs are more mixed. When people move within a region, how often do they end up in a community that aligns with their political sensibilities compared to their previous home?

One way to interpret this is that people are more tied to finances, jobs, and family within local places or geographies than to politics. Another way to put this is that Americans may express concerns about political trends, but they can often find more agreeable conditions not too far from where they currently live.

This highlights the importance of local government and politics even as there is a lot of attention paid to national politics. Even as state or national patterns may not be what individuals desire, they can rest assured that local communities or representatives share their positions. This could be related to the pattern where more Americans approve of their local Congressional representative than they approve of Congress as a whole.

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