Updated on October 11th, 2020
In search of affordability and space, people are leaving politically liberal areas for conservative places, a trend that’s more pronounced in swing states. Migration to Arizona could play a part in flipping the swing state blue in this year’s presidential election.
More people moved from blue (Democratic) to red (Republican) counties than from red to blue counties in the spring, according to national Redfin.com user home search data. Specifically, 6.5% more people looked to move to red and swing counties than to blue counties in the second quarter. Meanwhile, 3.2% more people looked to move to swing counties than blue or red counties, and 1.2% more people looked to move to red counties than blue or swing counties. This analysis reflects Redfin.com home searches from users who looked to relocate to a different county.
The trend is more pronounced in a collection of 13 swing states, where 9.3% more people looked to move to red and swing counties than blue counties, and 1.8% more people looked to move to red counties than blue or swing counties. In swing states, 3.6% more people looked to move to swing counties than red or blue counties.
“Swing counties in swing states were the most popular destinations for Redfin.com users looking to move across county lines this spring,” said Redfin economist Taylor Marr. “Even in non-coastal states that tend to be less expensive, relatively affordable swing counties that have a healthy mix of single-family homes, condos and townhouses are more attractive than ever. The bluest, most expensive counties are failing to attract a lot of the families who are looking to relocate right now.”
The time period we examined encompasses the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the shift toward remote work, which has resulted in some homebuyers deprioritizing commute times and relocating from expensive cities that lean blue to rural and suburban areas that tend to vote more red—which tend to lean red or purple—where they can find more space for less money. And according to Redfin.com user search data, a record 27.4% of home searchers looked to move to a different metro area in the second quarter, many of them away from California and New York and into states like Arizona, Texas, Florida and North Carolina that lean red or purple.
“The Democratic presidential candidate could win Arizona for the first time in 24 years, in part due to this year’s pandemic-driven migration,” Marr said. “The rise in remote work means people with a wide variety of political views have the freedom to leave heavily blue cities like New York and San Francisco for more affordable places like Phoenix. There is evidence from polling and voter registration trends that some liberal people who have left California since the last election are landing in Arizona and bringing their votes with them.”
“But in most states, migration is more likely to segregate people along political lines,” Marr continued. “That’s partly because most migrants move to a different county within the same state. But even those who move to different states are often essentially sorting themselves by political views, such as Republicans moving to a place where most people are conservative, Democrats moving to a place where most people are liberal, or politically moderate people being pushed one way or the other based on the makeup of their new neighborhood.”
Phoenix is typically one of the top three destinations for Redfin.com users searching outside their home metro, with 35.1% of searches for homes in Phoenix from outside the area in the second quarter, up from 27.9% in the first quarter of 2017. Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, the Bay Area and Denver are the top five origins for people moving into Phoenix. People moving into Phoenix from more liberal areas could factor into Arizona gaining 51,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans–amid an increase of 400,000 new registered voters overall–since the 2016 presidential election.
In Arizona, roughly the same share of people relocating looked to move to counties that lean blue, those that lean red and swing counties in the second quarter. Redfin’s migration data in Arizona is limited to “leans blue” and “leans red” counties; we do not have sufficient data for firmly blue and firmly red counties.
Red and swing counties are more popular in New York than any other state
The trend of moving away from politically blue areas is most pronounced in New York State, where 29.2% more people looked to move to red and swing counties than blue counties in the second quarter of 2020. Next come Wisconsin and Oregon, where 10.6% and 10.2% more people looked to move to red or swing counties than blue counties, respectively.
“People are leaving New York City for towns like White Plains, Rhinebeck and Ridgefield, Connecticut because remote work has given them the freedom to prioritize large lots, lakefront properties and big backyards with swimming pools,” said Steven Weiss, a Redfin real estate agent in New York City’s northern suburbs. “Some of the places people are moving into, like Dutchess County and Putnam County, lean much more Republican than Manhattan, but politics don’t seem to have anything to do with their decisions. Buyers are going about 40 miles farther north than they used to, where homes are bigger and more affordable, because commute times don’t matter nearly as much when they’re not going to the office every day. As a result, home prices are higher than I’ve ever seen them.”
Brian Callahan, the Redfin managing broker in Wisconsin, who focuses both on the Milwaukee and Madison areas, said many homebuyers and sellers are leaving blue urban areas for red suburbs and exurbs for similar reasons as other states around the country: the ability to work from home, the need for more space to accommodate home offices and bigger yards for children to play. And now that they have the freedom to live outside the city, many buyers are searching for a peaceful pocket in a stressful world.
“We’re seeing a steady stream of buyers from California, especially the Bay Area, relocate to Wisconsin,” Callahan said. “Many of them have family connections in Wisconsin, and they’re realizing they’d like to be close to family and friends if they can keep their Silicon Valley job and work from anywhere. Most of them seem to be part of the collective reset in priorities caused by the pandemic, though a lot of Californians had relocated to Madison even before the pandemic, with many of them attracted to that area’s progressive and outdoorsy culture.”
“I’ve also noticed locals moving outside cities. In a year that’s been mentally and physically exhausting for so many people, their home environment is one thing they can control and many buyers are longing for a sense of tranquility they can find in suburbs and rural areas,” Callahan continued. “It seems like there is a growing sense of nostalgia among homebuyers. I’ve heard several buyers express the desire to raise their family in a quiet small town like the one where they grew up, especially now that city living is less attractive with the closure of stores and restaurants and civil unrest. One buyer is looking for a farm to recapture memories from his grandparents’ property and recreate the experience for his children.”
New Mexico, where 8.7% more people looked to move to blue counties than red or swing counties, is the biggest exception to the trend. It’s followed by Louisiana (5.5%) and Connecticut (2.8%).
Affordability is key motivator for movement out of big cities and into rural and suburban neighborhoods
Housing affordability is a major reason for migration out of blue counties, which tend to be large urban areas, and into red and swing counties, which are typically home to rural and suburban neighborhoods. The typical home in a blue county sold for $346,000 in August, compared with $209,000 in red counties and $259,500 in swing counties. Residents of blue counties also spend a larger share of their household income on housing—30.8%—compared with 27% for red-county residents and 29.6% for swing-county residents.
Expensive coastal cities typically see the biggest portion of people moving away, while relatively affordable places tend to see people moving in, according to Redfin’s migration data. One caveat to note is that U.S. residents moving out of big coastal cities is usually partly offset by immigration, with international migration contributing six times more population growth in highly Democratic counties than highly Republican counties in 2017.
Movement away from blue counties and into red counties isn’t new. In the first half of 2017, the last time Redfin completed this analysis, 7.4% more people looked to move to red and swing counties than to blue counties.
Counties were classified as “blue” for this analysis if the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate won by more than 20 percentage points, and “leans blue” if the candidate won by more than 10 percentage points. Counties were classified as “red” if the 2016 Republican candidate won by more than 20 percentage points, and “leans red” if the candidate won by more than 10 percentage points. Counties were classified as “swing” if neither 2016 candidate won by more than a 10 percentage-point margin. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin are the swing states included in this analysis.
The migration part of the analysis is based on a sample of more than 2 million Redfin.com users who searched for homes across 137 metro areas in the second quarter of 2020, excluding searches unlikely to precede an actual relocation or home purchase. To be included in this dataset, a Redfin.com user must have viewed at least 10 homes in a particular county, and homes in that county must make up at least 80% of the user’s searches.
Redfin.com’s user search data covers more than 72 percent of the voting age population and is concentrated in urban areas, which gives us a specific and recent look at where residents of blue counties are looking to move. While our analysis looked only at metro areas Redfin serves, its results are in line with county-to-county migration data published by the U.S. Census, which reveals that in 2017 (the most recent data available), 64.5% more migrants moved from blue to red counties than the other way around.
The statistic about the share of household income spent on housing is the median gross rent as percent of household income (GRAPI) by county from the 5-Year American Community Survey, 2018.