In the first half of 2017, more people moved from blue (Democratic) counties to red (Republican) counties than from red to blue counties, according to data on Redfin.com user searches. Counties were classified as “blue” if the Democratic candidate for 2016 won by more than 20 percentage points and vice versa for “red” counties.1
Overall, 7.4 percent more people moved out of blue counties than to them. Compare that with red counties, which saw about 1 percent more people moving in than moving out. Purple counties, where there’s a more balanced share of Democrats and Republicans, saw 3.9 percent more migrants moving in than out.
Just looking at swing states—the most populous being Florida—the trend is even more pronounced. In these states, counties with more Democratic voters lost 9.2 percent more people than they gained while Republican counties gained 2.3 percent more than they lost. Swing counties in swing states saw 1.8 percent more people move in than out.
“As blue counties are becoming increasingly less affordable, we see a great number of residents moving to red counties where they can afford the lifestyle they want,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “At Redfin, we see this as a sign of hope for a less divided country, where people with differing views gain better understanding and tolerance of each other through sheer proximity.”
Redfin’s user data covers more than 72 percent of the voting age population and is concentrated in urban metropolises, 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 right in line with the latest county-to-county migration data published by the Census, which revealed that from 2011 to 2015, over 50 percent more migrants moved from blue to red counties than the other way around.
The advantage is that Redfin’s user data is forward looking and predictive of moves happening this year. Redfin’s unique data shows that two years later—as housing prices have appreciated by more than 14 percent—this trend has accelerated.
The trend is most pronounced in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where respectively, blue counties saw more than 12.7 percent, 12.1 percent and 10.3 percent more people leave than come. Exceptions to the trend were in Louisiana, New Mexico and Indiana—each of which experienced growth in the bluest counties.
In Search of Affordability
This is happening for two major reasons. The first is economic. Housing is becoming less available and less affordable in America’s largest urban counties (almost all of which are blue). The second is a longer trend of the self-sorting of Americans by lifestyle and political partisanship resulting in political polarization.
High housing costs in blue counties have pushed people further out into nearby purple suburbs. Nationwide, the average home in a blue county costs around $360,000—more than 62 percent more than that of homes in red counties ($223,000). Sure blue-county incomes are usually higher, but their residents spend on average 32 percent of their household income on rent, nearly 5 percentage points higher than residents of red counties (purple counties fall in between at 30.9 percent), according to the Census.
Affordable housing for families is paramount. For example, in August, the typical home in Denver County sold for $400,000, whereas in Douglas County homes sold for only about three-fifths of that, after controlling for size. Additionally, in 2015, the typical resident spent a full 3 percent more of their income on rent in Denver County as well—29.5 percent compared with 26.4 in Douglas County.
As a result, one in 10 Redfin users looking to move out of Denver County, Colorado—where nearly three in four votes last November were for Hillary Clinton—were looking to nearby Douglas County—where Trump won 54.7 percent of the vote.
On the Other Hand: The Big Sort
It is not all about economics, however. Politics can be a major reason people decide where to move—there is even a business built on this premise that helps conservatives move to staunchly Republican neighborhoods.
A Redfin survey found that, 41 percent of recent homebuyers reported hesitations about moving to a place where most people have political views different from their own. In contrast, less than one in 10 respondents were enthusiastic about moving to a different political climate, while the remaining half were neutral. Millennials—the largest group forming new households—were even more likely to be hesitant, consistent with sociological research showing an increased political tolerance as people age.
This trend of sorting by political beliefs has been dubbed the “Big Sort” by researcher Bill Bishop and has been underway since the early 1970s. Increasingly, the politics of our neighbors are not any different from our own. By this way of thinking, it’s less likely that all this cross-county migration will result in any different of a political landscape at the state-level. As people continue to self-sort into areas that represent their lifestyle and demographics—and thus politics—those who lean Republican are the most likely to leave the bluest counties.
It Might Be Different this Time
While the evidence that people will continue to self-sort by political beliefs is strong, we would contend that the housing affordability crisis in the bluest counties is unprecedented. With no sign of a drastic drop in prices anytime soon, there’s an argument that many more people, regardless of politics, will move to where they can buy a comfortable home.
We will continue to look at these migration patterns into the next election cycle to track how this trend evolves in the next year leading up to the midterm elections.
Redfin analyzed a sample of more than one million Redfin.com users searching for homes from January through June of 2017. Users must have viewed at least 10 listings during the year. We also excluded locations that in aggregate represented less than 20 percent of a user’s searches. We determined the home metro by mapping the user’s IP address of the most common location they searched from. If a user was searching in more than one county, we accounted for the share of searches in each county. The county-level election results were downloaded from here.
1. Counties that won with only a 10 percentage point margin “lean” blue or red and the remaining counties are purple.↩
2. This is computed by comparing the national median sale price growth from September 2015 to 2017 using the Redfin Data Center.↩
3. The breakdown of median sale prices and price growth is as follows: Blue counties: $360k (6.9%), Leans Blue: $280k (5.7%), Purple: $278k (6.5%), Leans Red $237k (6.5%), and Red counties $223k (7.5%).↩
4. Average Gross Rent as Percent of Household Income by county: Blue counties: 32%, Leans Blue: 31.1%, Purple: 30.9%, Leans Red: 29.4%, Red counties: 27.5%.↩