Am I Blue? Electoral Evolution

It is the conventional wisdom that 2014 will make Republicans smile and Democrats weep, particularly in Senate races. Why? Because many of the one third of Senate seats up for grabs this year that are held by Democrats are located in ordinarily Red States. Thus, it an uphill battle for Dems to retain them in hostile territory.

The converse will be true in 2016 when a higher number of Republican incumbents will be running in states that are Blue or at least trending Purplish so they’ll be paddling upstream. But those aren’t the only interesting factors at work in an evolving electorate.

A piece from the New York Times by Robert Gebeloff and David Leonhardt takes note of two trends that are already obvious to anyone paying attention to our politics and draws attention to an emerging third factor.

First an increasing percentage of the electorate is Latino. Ditto for the Millennial generation, born 1980 and after. Over time, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers will account for a smaller percentage of the electorate, the Millennials will represent a larger and larger share.

Both these trends bode ill for the Republicans since the party’s candidates have made a habit of alienating Latinos. Similarly, their stands on social issues don’t play well with the younger generation.

To these demographic factors, the Times piece adds another summed up in its title — “The Growing Blue-State Diaspora.” An analysis of electoral and other data shows that a surprising number of Blue State natives have moved to Red States. For example, folks born in New York now account for 4.6% of the population of New Hampshire, 4.7% of North Carolina, 4.2% of Virginia and so on. Of 20 million born New Yorkers, 16% or three million now live in Southern states. Similarly, many Californians have decamped to places like Colorado and Nevada.

This trend of migration from Blue States to Red is most interesting in the South, since the Civil Rights era a bastion of the Republicans. For instance, the percentage of North Carolinians born in Blue States has increased by 41% since 2000, in SC 39%, in Georgia 30%. The numbers aren’t huge, but they are lopsided. In North Carolina, for example, the number of Blue State people moving in is four times as great as the number of Red State folks becoming Tarheels.

Across parts of the South and West, the percent of a state’s population that was born in that state has been declining in recent years. So North and South Carolinians are now only 58% native born, Georgians 55%, New Mexicans 53%, Virginians 49%, Coloradans 42%, Wyomans (Wyomingans?) 40%, Arizonans 38%.

Not all the new residents are from Blue States or lean in a liberal direction. Indeed, some may be fleeing a high cost of living and rate of taxation in Blue States and so have more affinity for a Red State.

But in several states with large Blue enclaves, like Washington’s Virginia suburbs or North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the voting has trended purple in recent election cycles. Of course, these kinds of shifts are more likely to have an impact in statewide races for Senate and President.

That’s because, insofar as in-migrating Blue birds of a feather flock together geographically, they may only influence a limited number of House seat races in formerly Red States, at least as long as Republicans control state government and with it the power to gerrymander election districts.

Still, the three trends of growing Latinoblue, Millennial and transplanted Blue State clout threaten to paint more states neither Red, nor Blue, but Purple. And if that happens it may result in more candidates being forced to abandon the extremes for compromise positions in the middle. If that were to happen, there might be hope for a more functional, less lunatic government. But only if the trends continue and we live long enough to see it.

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