One thing you grow accustomed to when living in Florida, as I do, is seeing out-of-state license plates.
The Sunshine State welcomes more than 100 million tourists annually, and around this time of year, the “snowbirds” — souls fleeing the miserable northern tundra to bask in our warmth — are arriving.
Amid that constant influx of people, I always take note of moving vans with cars in tow. The other day I noticed one from California heading south down the interstate toward Tampa. Why? Despite the earthquakes and wildfires, California supposedly has superior weather to ours. Additionally, it’s a quasi-socialist paradise that, we’re told by our betters, models our undeniable future.
So, motivated by that Californian-turned-Floridian, I queried the U.S. Census Bureau to satisfy a nagging curiosity.
In 2017, according to the government, roughly 566,000 people moved to Florida from another state. The leading feeder state, with almost 64,000, was New York. Following the Empire State was Georgia, California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. (The last three all had roughly the same number of movers, around 28,000.)
This sparked another thought about our country’s internal movement.
Considering the top five states where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posted their largest margins of victory, in terms of total votes, a pattern emerges.
Hillary’s most overwhelming victories occurred in California, New York, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. In 2017 each of them saw more departures than new arrivals.
Yet the opposite is true where Trump won “bigly”: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Each welcomed more newcomers than wished farewell to pilgrims.
So the next questions: Where did people in the Clinton states go? And from whence did those in the Trump states come?
Census data indicate the largest group in each exodus among Hillaryous states was as follows: from California to Texas; Illinois to Indiana; New York to Florida; Massachusetts to New Hampshire; and Maryland to Virginia.
As for the Trumpster regions, Texas took them in from California; Tennessee from Florida; Alabama from Georgia; Kentucky from Ohio; and Oklahoma from Texas.
Now, proximity obviously matters. People could be expected to stay close to where they were.
But what’s striking is that both tributaries flow into red states — although part of the Hillary group requires some clarification.
Regarding those who left Massachusetts and Maryland, it’s arguable there is little difference because both starting points and endpoints are blue states. But New Hampshire is arguably the most conservative state in New England. Over the past century, for instance, Granite Staters have elected 21 Republicans as governor, compared to six Democrats. Over the past decade, however, roughly 172,000 Massachusetts denizens moved to New Hampshire, whose overall population is 1.3 million. That could help explain New Hampshire’s recent listing to port.
As for Marylanders putting down roots in Virginia, until Barack Obama came along, Virginia had voted for the GOP presidential candidate in 10 consecutive elections. So its rising purple haze is relatively recent.
In other words, Trumpish conservative influence in New Hampshire and Virginia may be diminishing, but it’s much stronger there than in the places their new residents came from.
People in Trump country moving to red states seems rational. But the migrants opting to leave Hillaryland for potential enemy territory are more intriguing.
Take that Californian I passed on the highway. Who was he? A disaffected conservative who saw no hope or purpose in remaining in a bastion of uber-liberalism and seeking a friendlier climate? Or was he a surreptitious interloper still clinging to the ways of his homeland and hoping that one day they could be implemented in his adopted home?
As a Floridian, and in the bigger sense, a Sunbelter, I worry it might be the latter.
In recent weeks President Trump has focused attention on the risk of the immigrant caravans coming from the south. But perhaps we in the South need to be mindful of caravans fleeing Bluetopia’s high taxes, excessive government intrusion, rising cost of living and social-justice warrioring. Let’s hope they, like immigrants of yore, seek assimilation rather than proselytization.
Bill Thompson (email@example.com) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.