California Is Powering A Democratic Revolution In The West

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Nevada, as seen from the California border.

Nevada, as seen from the California border.

CREDIT: Flickr user Ken Lund

Over at NPR, Alan Greenblatt recently published an interesting post on “How California Is Turning The Rest Of The West Blue”. Greenblatt points to an under-appreciated but important aspect of demographic change: geographic mobility. When people move from one state to another, they typically bring their politics with them. So when people move from a blue state to a red state, they are likely to exert a liberalizing influence on their new state.

There’s no better example of this than movement out of the biggest blue state of them all: California.

Californians move to many states, but there is much more movement to nearby Western states. No state gets more of this in-migration than the neighboring state of Nevada. Nevada of course is becoming more like California just from the rapid diversification of the state. In the 2010 Census, Nevada had 45 percent minorities and was well on its way to become our fifth majority-minority state (California is one of the four that got there first). And Nevada was 27 percent Hispanic, behind California’s 38 percent but growing faster.

But as Greenblatt points out, Nevada’s California-ization goes way beyond that to include a rising tide of actual Californians entering the state and settling there. In a 2012 paper I wrote with demographer William Frey, we found that almost a quarter (23 percent) of Nevada’s eligible voters were born in California. That’s quite a bit higher than the mere 14 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters who were born within the state’s borders. Indeed, the latter figure is the lowest figure in the country.

The rate of change is fastest in the Las Vegas metro, home to 72 percent of the state’s population. In the 2000-2010 time period, the percentage of Californians among Las Vegas’ eligible voters increased by 4 points. Obama carried the Las Vegas metro by 14 points (56-42), the key to his relatively easy victory in the state.

As the years go by, California will continue to export voters to its nearby states. It’s just one more reason why the future of the West is likely to be blue.