How net in-migration and out-migration varies from state to state. Source: Harvard and Census Bureau.
How net in-migration and out-migration varies from state to state. Source: Harvard and Census Bureau.

We have more coverage of Virginia’s population trends here.

The latest set of data showing where Americans are moving to and from shows that people are generally moving from the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast to the Sunbelt.

Of more concern to us: Virginia’s demographic trends look more like the Northeast than the Southeast. More people are moving out than moving in. I’ve written about that in two previous columns, so you can dig into all that here and here.

Some (always on the conservative side of things) have looked at these national trends and concluded that people are moving from Democratic-run states to Republican-run ones. There is some general truth to that (California, Illinois and New York are losing; Florida, Georgia and Texas are gaining), but whether there’s enough truth to declare a cause or a coincidence is a matter of debate. Those are big states so naturally get big attention. However, some smaller Republican-run states — Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia, just to name five — are losing people. And some smaller Democratic-run states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, just to name three — are gaining people. And what are we to make of states with divided governments? Nevada and Vermont, both with a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, are gaining people. So is North Carolina, with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. Meanwhile, Louisiana, with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, is losing people. Maybe it’s just that cold states are generally losing people and warm states are generally gaining them? Although that doesn’t explain Maine (gaining) and Hawaii (losing) …

We won’t settle that today.

Instead, we’ll take up a different politically themed question that arises out of the latest Internal Revenue Service report on migration.

I recently had a former Republican officeholder email me to ask: “The migration from New York, Maryland, California would imply Virginia is getting politically more blue. You think that is true?”

Ah, I love a question like that because it’s a question about politics that can be answered with actual facts.

Yes, it’s true that those states are among the biggest sources of newcomers to Virginia. For the year 2021, here’s where the IRS says Virginia’s new residents are coming from:

Maryland: 26,777
North Carolina: 21,874
Florida: 19,093
California: 18,441
New York: 14,198
Texas: 13,544
Foreign: 10,748
District of Columbia: 9,796
Pennsylvania: 9,726
Georgia: 8,069

Now, here’s what the list looked like a decade before, in 2011:

Maryland 21,752
North Carolina 21,752
Florida 17,759
Foreign 15,085
California 14,502
Texas 12,468
New York 12,186
Georgia 9,462
Pennsylvania 9,281
New Jersey 6,755

You’ll see that the top three — Maryland, North Carolina, Florida — were still the top three, in the same order. Some of the others have changed places but nine of the Top 10 sources a decade ago are still in the Top 10 today. The only change: New Jersey is out and the District of Columbia is in. So, relatively speaking, not much has changed.

You’ll see bigger changes in the actual numbers involved. The in-migration from Maryland has grown (it’s up 5,025). So has California (up 3,959). Meanwhile, foreign in-migration has dropped — down by 4,337. Immigration is one of those things where our political rhetoric does not match reality. Some think we’re being overrun by immigrants. In fact, the percentage of immigrants as a share of the overall U.S. population rose slightly during the Donald Trump administration (from 13.5% in 2015, the year before his election, to 13.7% in 2019 during his term) and declined slightly under the first year of the Joe Biden administration (down to 13.6%), according to data compiled by the Migration Policy Institute (which doesn’t seem to address the legal status of those immigrants, merely their presence). None of these are historic highs, by any means. That came in 1890, when immigrants comprised 14.8% of the population, followed by 1910 when the immigrant share was 14.7%. These figures only seem high to us because most of us, of a certain age, remember 1970 when the immigrant share of the population fell to a historic low of 4.7% — largely a result of immigration being shut off by restrictive laws passed in the 1920s, followed almost immediately by World War II and the Cold War, which interrupted the normal flows of immigration. In other words, we grew up during an aberrant period in American history; now we are living in a period that, statistically speaking, is a lot closer to historic norms. The main difference is a change in where those immigrants are coming from (and where they’re settling).

But I digress.

The question was whether this in-migration is reshaping Virginia politics and, if so, how. (Since a Republican asked the question, I’ll assume that he was not in favor of being outvoted by California liberals who have decamped east.)

The answer that depends entirely on who is moving — something that the data doesn’t tell us.

However, now we get to the fun part.

Fun fact number one: What was Trump’s best state in 2020? In terms of sheer number of votes, it was California. On a percentage basis, he did poorly in the Golden State, taking just 34.3% of the vote — but in a state as big as California, that still amounted to more than 6 million votes. That’s more than he polled in either Florida or Texas, two states he carried. If some of those people are moving to Virginia, then we’re becoming more conservative, not more liberal.

Fun fact number two: Trump’s fourth-best state was New York. Same phenomenon: He took just 37.7% of the vote but that state amounted to more than 3.25 million votes. (Allow me another political digression: It’s typically Democrats who argue for abolishing the Electoral College and electing presidents on the basis of the popular vote because the small-state bias in the Electoral College skews the results Republican and, as we’ve seen, can override the popular choice. However, these numbers from California and New York suggest that it’s Republicans who ought to be pushing for the popular vote. Right now there’s zero incentive for Republicans in those states to vote because we all know they’ll go Democratic. Think of how many more Republican votes might be out there if their votes actually counted; maybe a lot more than Democrats could produce out of, say, Wyoming.)

Anyway, back to migration: If liberal New Yorkers (or Californians or Marylanders or anybody else) are moving to Virginia, we’ll trend left. But if conservative New Yorkers are, then we’ll get pulled the other way.

So just who is moving?

I’ve not seen any data on the political orientation of Virginia’s newcomers. If anybody has some, I’d love to see it. Perhaps that could make a good poll topic for the pollsters at Roanoke College or Christopher Newport University or Virginia Commonwealth University, three schools with polling organizations?

However, we do have some limited data on other states.

The biggest destination for Californians leaving the state is Texas (more on that to come), but the second and third biggest destinations are Arizona and Nevada. We’ve also seen both states, over time, move from being solidly Republican to being battleground states that in recent years have flipped Democratic. That shouldn’t be a surprise: Both states have gained more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. (Virginia doesn’t register voters by party so we can’t use that metric here.) Arizona and Nevada stand out as two states where in-migration seems to be making those states more liberal. 

Florida, though, stands out as a state where in-migration is making it more conservative. 

Florida is the fastest-growing state in the country, and that growth is fueled by people moving in. Its biggest sources of new residents, in descending order, are New York, Georgia, California, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. In other words, three of its top four sources and five of its top seven sources are states that are considered blue states. Yet Florida is demonstrably becoming more conservative: In 2021, Republicans passed Democrats in voter registration for the first time ever. Barack Obama carried Florida twice, narrowly. So did Donald Trump, by somewhat bigger margins. Florida was a state that saw Trump’s vote share increase from 2016 to 2020. For liberals who cannot fathom why Ron DeSantis is so popular in Florida, this is why. Migration is making it more conservative.

Another migration trend that’s being studied with great interest is the trend of Californians moving to Texas. Texas is the fourth fastest-growing state and California is the single biggest source of new residents. In some places, such as the new tech capital of Austin, that’s making Texas more liberal. Overall, though, California expats might be making Texas more conservative. A 2013 poll — which, admittedly, has some age on it now — found that 57% of the California newcomers to Texas were conservatives. An exit poll from the closely contested U.S. Senate race between Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke produced a curious result. Texas natives preferred O’Rourke by 3 percentage points. But newcomers favored Cruz by 15 or more percentage points. Cruz won. “If it were up to people who were Texans by birth, Cruz would have lost reelection,” writes the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Subsequent polling in Texas has borne out these trends. A poll in 2020 found Texas newcomers more pro-Trump than Texas natives were. Another fun fact: Some nativists contend that Democrats want to use immigration to remake the nation’s politics. However, Texas polling found that naturalized citizens in Texas tended to be conservatives. Based on that, it’s Republicans who should want more immigration, not less.

The conservative tilt of newcomers to both Florida and Texas has some pretty profound consequences: Both have a lot of electoral votes, and population growth is only going to give them more in coming years. In 2000, Florida had 25. By 2020, it had 29. Come 2024, it will have 30. As we’ve seen, that’s a state that may be tilting out of Democrats’ reach. Texas — which had 32 electoral votes in 2000, 38 in 2020 and will have 40 next year — has been going the other way. It’s a state where Democrats have been gaining political strength and Republicans losing it, those conservative California newcomers notwithstanding. Joe Biden’s 46% in 2020 was the highest percentage for a Democrat in a presidential election in the Lone Star State since Jimmy Carter took 51% in 1976. Democrats salivate at the prospect of Texas flipping into their column (another reason that Republicans might want to rethink their views on the Electoral College). However, a steady stream of conservative newcomers to Texas could be the best get-out-the-vote campaign Republicans ever had. They don’t need those voters in California or New York or Illinois; they do need them in Texas to hold that state in place.

Now, none of this answers my reader’s question: Is net in-migration — particularly in-migration from traditionally blue states — making Virginia more liberal? That’s a great question but there’s no hard answer. It all depends on who’s moving.

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at