Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moving Daze, pt. 4 - So what accounts for the mad rush from areas of liberal influence to those that tend to be more conservative? There are doubtless many factors that impact a person's decision to live in one part of the country versus another. Crime rates, levels of taxation, employment opportunities, educational quality, housing prices and overall cost of living are all tangible, palpable measures of the quality of life offered by a particular community, and generally speaking, many if not most of these indicators are improved in areas of conservative influence.

It is certainly more expensive to be a liberal - or to be more precise, it costs a great deal to live in an area of liberal governance. (This explains why most prominent progressives are also very wealthy, as wealth provides the best hedge against the effects of liberalism.) And to be sure, many traditional Midwestern Democrat strongholds have seen dramatic increases in crime, as noted by the Chicago Tribune.

Since 2004, aggravated assaults are up a whopping 86 percent in Milwaukee and 42 percent in Minneapolis. Homicides are up 41 percent in Cincinnati, 26 percent in Kansas City, Mo., and 38 percent in Cleveland. Detroit's robberies have leapt by 40 percent since 2004. And the incidence of aggravated assault with a firearm in St. Louis jumped 45 percent, according to a recent study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington law-enforcement think tank.
But while cost and crime are significant influences on where people relocate to, as a point of fact, many factors come into play when a person is evaluating two sets of living circumstances. And each person will place a different weighting on each factor, based upon their individual situation. The important point to keep in mind is that when we observe population changes of such a significant magnitude over an extended period of time, the "why" is merely an academic concern. The reality is that people of free will and sound judgment are manning the life rafts and paddling for all they are worth to go from blue to red, and with a quickness.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that individual’s decisions to move from one area to another are primarily or even secondarily related to political considerations, as such an assertion would strain credulity. But it is not unreasonable to suppose that whatever might persuade a person to choose a particular part of the country, the factors of attraction exist as the cumulative result of decisions made by the political leadership of a given geography, as well as the lifestyle choices made by the general population.

Migration statistics notwithstanding, there are many who would argue that traditionally Democratic urban areas are enjoying a revival, with many cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and the afore-mentioned San Francisco enjoying high rates of housing appreciation, thereby suggesting an improvement of the fortunes of cities. Author and New American Foundation senior fellow Joel Kotkin argues in the May 15, 2006 Wall Street Journal that rather than indicating the strength of urban centers, this rapid rise in housing costs masks the underlying dynamics influencing population outflows from major cities.
Academic theorists like [George Mason University professor] Richard Florida claim the outmigration stems from a surge of affluent, well-educated small households – his much vaunted "creative class" – pushing out middle-class families and others among the less gifted. This may be partly true, particularly in some coveted neighborhoods, but overall Dr. Florida's notion seems to me like a play on Yogi Berra’s remark about a place being so crowded nobody goes there anymore. Cities now can claim to be successful since they are losing their people.
Part of this may be explained by the tapering housing bubble, which has created a false notion of an "urban renaissance" driven by, among other things, empty-nesters returning to the city. The outmigration numbers suggest this may not be as true, or as permanent, as the boosters think. In many urban cores, from New York to San Diego, large numbers of condo units…have been bought not by new urbanites but by speculators. Many others have been purchased by part-time residents.
In any event, it appears that these national trends in population will not slow down or reverse themselves in the future. In 2005, Census Bureau projections suggested that Florida, California and Texas will account for 46 percent of U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2030. By 2011, Florida would surpass New York as the third most populous state. By 2030, Arizona would increase its population by 5.6 million, North Carolina would increase by 4.2 million residents and would both move into the top ten in total population. Michigan and New Jersey would drop out of the top ten. The projections also indicate that between 2000 and 2030, the five fastest growing states would be Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah.

What remains to be seen is whether many "red" states will become more purple as they absorb populations from other areas. An article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic suggests that as states such as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming become more Hispanic, the voting patterns of these states will shift accordingly, noting that "Hispanic party identification registers roughly two to one in favor of the Democrats." The story goes on to point out that the interior West may also be impacted by an influx of former Californians.
The congested, generally liberal population centers of California are overflowing – and as they do, it’s as if a bucket of blue paint were spilling across the West. More than 400,000 Arizonans and 360,000 Nevadans were born in California. The thinly populated mountain West states are slowly taking on a left-coast character as well: as of the last census, 122,000 native Californians lived in Idaho (total population 1.3 million) while 47,000 lived in Montana (900,000) and 21,000 lived in Wyoming (490,000).
While there is a possibility that demographic trends alone could bring Western states to a tipping point in their party allegiance, given the preexisting social attitudes and institutions prevalent in these areas, such a possibility is remote, as the Atlantic article concedes.
Westerners are particularly unlikely to be convinced that Wal-Mart, oil companies, and other "bad corporate citizens" are preventing them from getting ahead; the West is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Likewise, Democrats were ruined for a generation in the region by gaining reputations as owl-obsessed gun grabbers – and while environmental protection is now relatively popular there, many Westerners remain wary of Democratic intentions. More generally, small government is not a term often associated with the Democratic Party. (Italics in original.)
Indeed, if there is a threat to Republican hegemony in the interior West – and perhaps in the South as well – it goes beyond demographics to Republicans themselves. As the national G.O.P. embraces its own form of big government activism, the lines between it and Democrats become less meaningful. The path of least resistance for Democrats may be to simply let Republicans yield to their lesser angels. In any event, whatever the case may be in the future, red seems to trump blue in terms when people are given a choice today.

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