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May 20, 2012 / Gabriel

Americans Vote With Their Feet

“Actions speak louder than words.” – Proverb


Do Americans prefer to live in Democrat or Republican states?

As discussed previously, on the international level the data is clear: millions of people every year vote with their feet and move from countries that are less economically free to countries that are more free-market orientated. People of every nationality and culture generally favor economic freedom over central planning.

But what of within the United States? A very similar analysis can be done by ranking each state according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) and correlating that with IRS state migration statistics.

A state’s PVI measures how strongly each state favors one political party over another. For instance, the state of Massachusetts has a PVI rating of D+12, which means that a generic Democratic candidate up for election would be expected to receive 12% more votes than the national average. Conversely, Texas has PVI rating of R+10, which means that it votes 10% more Republican than the national average. And a state like Colorado is at a zero PVI, a true swing state with neutral partisanship.

Ranking each state by its PVI, we get a full range of states from the most conservative (Utah) to the most liberal (Vermont)[1]. So how do we measure which states Americans prefer to live in?

The IRS publishes migration data every year. Since tax returns are filed by Social Security Number, the IRS can track how many filers and dependents each year file from a different state than the one they were in previously. Since this excludes births, deaths, and foreign migration, this is an exact measure of the number of Americans making a conscious decision to move from one state to another.

Correlating the IRS state migration data from 2000 – 2010[2] with each state’s PVI score, we get the following results:


The higher the Democrat PVI, the higher the percentage of people left the state to move to a Republican-leaning state. States with a Democrat PVI of 10% or greater over the past decade saw an average outflow of 5.8% of their population to other states. States with a milder Democrat PVI of between 5 – 10% also saw outflows, albeit at a lower average level of 2.6%. And states with a light Democrat lean with PVIs of up to 5% saw small population outflows of 0.9%.

Conversely, the people moving out of Democrat states are moving into Republican states. Those with a center-right lean with Republican PVI of up to 5% saw net inflows of people moving from Democrat states of 2.8%. And even more Americans chose to relocate to states with a Republican PVI of 5 – 10%, with a strong 4.2% net population inflow. Interestingly, the trend weakens with states with a very strong Republican lean (PVI of 10% or more), which weren’t as popular as center-right states but still saw net population inflows of 1.6%.

What do the figures tell us? On average, the migration trends at the U.S. state level mirror those at the global level: hundreds of thousands of Americans every year vote with their feet and make the choice to pack up and move away from Democrat states and into Republican ones. The more Democrat-leaning the state, the faster they move away. And on average, the preferred states to move into are center-right Republican states.



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