Changing Demography of the US Electorate

Michael Barone in the Wall Street Journal:

It has become a commonplace to say that population has been flowing from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt, from an industrially ailing East and Midwest to an economically vibrant West and South. But the actual picture of recent growth, as measured by the 2000 Census and the census estimates for 2006, is more complicated…. What I found is that you can separate [population centers] into four different categories, with different degrees and different sources of population growth or decline. And I found some interesting surprises.

By far, the biggest population losers are the “Coastal Megalopolises”

Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they’re moving out of our largest metro areas. They’re fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they’re moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations–these are driving many Americans elsewhere.
The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.

I would have thought that Providence would fall into the “Coastal Megalopolis” category. Not so:

The fourth category is what I call the Static Cities. These are 18 metropolitan areas with immigrant inflow between zero and 4%, with domestic inflow up to 3% and domestic outflow no higher than 1%. They seem to be holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back. Philadelphia makes the list, and so do Baltimore, Hartford and Providence in the East.
Surprisingly, some Western cities that boomed in the 1990s are in this category too: Seattle (the tech bust again), Denver, Portland. In the Midwest, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Columbus and Indianapolis are doing better than their Rust Belt neighbors and make the list. In the South, Norfolk, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Birmingham are lagging enough behind the Interior Boomtowns to do so. Overall the Static Cities had a domestic inflow of just 18,000 people (.048%) and an immigrant inflow of 2%. Politically, they’re a mixed bag, a bit more Democratic than the nation as a whole: 52% for Kerry, 47% for Bush.

Not losing, but not gaining. All in all, Barone concludes:

Twenty years ago political analysts grasped the implications of the vast movement from Rust Belt to Sun Belt, a tilting of the table on balance toward Republicans; but with California leaning heavily to Democrats, that paradigm seems obsolete. What’s now in store is a shifting of political weight from a small Rust Belt which leans Democratic and from the much larger Coastal Megalopolises, where both secular top earners and immigrant low earners vote heavily Democratic, toward the Interior Megalopolises, where most voters are private-sector religious Republicans but where significant immigrant populations lean to the Democrats. House seats and electoral votes will shift from New York, New Jersey and Illinois to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada; within California, House seats will shift from the Democratic coast to the Republican Inland Empire and Central Valley.

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Tom W
Tom W
16 years ago

Given that census data indicates that Rhode Island’s total population has been rather static, if not declined slightly …
While Hispanics now make up what, ten to twelve percent of the state’s population,
I think it’s safe to assume that Rhode Island has experienced / is experiencing the same phenomena as other places, i.e., native born / middle class people are moving out, and poor, foreign born immigrants are moving in.
Certainly if I have occasion to speak with “twenty something” college graduates I encourage them (for their future economic well-being)to relocate to the Sunbelt, instead of trying to make it in corrupt, high tax Rhode Island (something I wish somebody had advised me back when I was in my twenties!!!!).

michael frescas
michael frescas
16 years ago

For what its worth, you can get free access to wall street journal articles from

16 years ago

Tom W, don’t give up. There are avenues beyond the shifting sands of Rhode Island. MA border is not so far (not that its a 100% better, but it is at least growing). We moved, new jobs, lower taxes and we are in our mid to late 40s. Look beyond the borders of Rhode Island. Despite what others say, there are other beautiful beaches, landscapes and quaint farms. And, you can always rent a house on Block Island (like we do), to keep that tie to Rhode Island.

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