Political polarization usually leads to balkanization and a corresponding migration pattern, as each faction of the nation’s population gathers together geographically. The Founding Fathers may have issued warnings against the people factionalizing, but they also provided outlets, such as powers reserved to the several varying states, to accommodate it when it arises. In 2022 and the years leading up to it, increasingly tense polarization among party factions has been well documented, and in the November midterm election results we see stages of balkanization and migration at work among the population.
For example, migration out of the nation’s largest population center, the New York City metropolitan area, took one of two basic forms. One form is that New Yorkers migrated to areas within a few hundred miles of their former home where they would remain surrounded by generally similar Democrat Party state politics. The second form is migration to areas a thousand miles or more distant from New York City, where the surroundings would provide a change in state politics to more conservative control.
Case in point, according to Unacast population studies, the top two destination metros for New Yorkers leaving New York City since 2020 are, in order, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Miami, Florida, areas that are headed in demonstrably different directions.
Pennsylvania’s midterm election showed 2022’s largest flip from one party’s control to the other’s, in John Fetterman’s victory for senator, replacing Pat Toomey, a Republican. Pennsylvania has until now been considered a hard-to-win swing state: It elected and then reelected Toomey for senator (in 2010 and 2016) and narrowly went for President Donald Trump in 2016. But after the 2020 and 2022 elections, Pennsylvania is bluer now than it has been in decades. Massachusetts and other Northeast states that received interstate migrants also surged bluer, whereas the state of New York became electorally more moderate, after losing “spare” blue voters.
Voting with our feet at times is considered an important way to form a more perfect union.
While busy for the last two years electing President Joe Biden, Fetterman, and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania has received over 315,000 New Yorkers since early 2020 and COVID-19 and its aftermath. “Voting with Our Feet” is the title of an article in National Affairs from late 2021. In it, the George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin encourages the practice of relocating across state lines to voice preferences and distastes. Voting with your feet is an idea that was clearly on the minds of Americans from 2020 to 2022, and it surely remains so for many people.
Many of the ex–New Yorkers now in Philadelphia, who are lovers of Northeast liberalism and are tolerant of lefty-imposed lockdowns, may have executed a strategic move to expand their party’s influence into a nearby former swing state by moving to Pennsylvania. Quite possibly, when they were introduced to the idea of voting with their feet, they obeyed.
Conversely, Florida exhibited the largest increase in victory margin for incumbents, in Ron DeSantis’ and Marco Rubio’s decisive victories for governor and senator. While DeSantis’ 2018 victory was a squeaker, after 2022’s dramatic increase, the map of Florida is redder than it has been in living memory.
Since the announcement of COVID near the start of 2020, the Miami metro has received over 307,000 New Yorkers, according to Unacast. The ex–New Yorkers who moved to Florida were aware that they would be relocating to a place with a Republican state government, greater freedom, and more family-friendly values. Yet, like the New Yorkers who moved to Pennsylvania, the Florida-bound New Yorkers made an electoral difference in their new state. The difference between moving 1,000 miles and moving 100 miles, in terms of both effort and the willingness to sever ties, suggests that those who resettled in Florida landed there not for transitory reasons but rather for the freedom and culture. That is the direction suggested by the “polarizgration” between Florida and the Northeast.
In total, four state governorships flipped in 2022. Two were in the eastern states, and each was within a few hundred miles of New York City along the seaboard. Maryland’s and Massachusetts’ governor’s houses flipped from Republican to Democrat; interestingly, the Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts, metros are Nos. 3 and 4 in the top destinations for people leaving New York City, with 270,000 and 248,000 New Yorkers moving to the D.C. metro and the Boston metro, respectively. These destination states are relatively short distances from New York and already had a relatively “blue” climate, both characteristics that were likely appealing to New York Democrats. This would suggest that voters who left New York for Massachusetts and Maryland indeed pushed their politics further left.
Out west, the top two out-of-state destinations for people from Los Angeles, America’s second largest city and a metro also filled with “spare” Democrat voters, are Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona. The other two flips of state governors in 2022 were, in fact, Nevada and Arizona.
But the stage of “balkanizgration” in these top destinations is less clear, or perhaps simply earlier, than that of the East Coast. Factors to consider include the facts that neither Las Vegas nor Phoenix is very far from Los Angeles, and they both had about the same mandates. Thus, there is, overall, not that much difference between these desert Southwest states to balkanize over.
Yet what we can say about “polarizgration” or “balkanizgration” out west is that in 2022 the fastest-growing state from migration, Idaho, which was already conservative, had its strongest Republican showing since 1924. In essence, then, impacted by migration, the West Coast seems interminably blue and comparatively transient; Nevada and Arizona respectively are tilting slightly bluer or slightly redder; and the inland Northwest is cranking up its undeniable conservative ascent.
Viewed for their trajectories, the Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, Arizona, and Idaho results of 2022 indicate not only an increasingly polarized United States but also a nation actively migrating for political reasons. The phrase “Vote with your feet” was featured as early as 1792 in that year’s edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and again in 1878 in the writings of the American historian Robert Fowler. For over 230 years, the United States has been a country that intentionally affords the expression of factionalized balkanization as a freedom for citizens that allows them to express dissatisfaction and disgust and helps to keep the peace. Voting with our feet at times is considered an important way to form a more perfect union.
America is experiencing a period of historic migration and demographic changes under state circumstances that exceeded many Americans’ tolerance for staying where they were. The outcomes in the 2022 elections in favor of Ron DeSantis, Josh Shapiro, Marco Rubio, John Fetterman, Joe Lombardo, Mark Kelly, Wes Moore, Maura Healey, and Katie Hobbs have each caused a turning point in the histories of those states. Several of these results have deepened the existing red or blue hue of a state, extending further the cultural and political gaps between the several states — that is, further balkanizing America.
This is part of the country’s design, and people are free to do so — hopefully for honest causes and not because politicians and media exaggerated health threats for political agendas (though many know that they did). The truth behind the triggers of migration is for the people to discern, for we have the liberty to get up and relocate, but at the same time we expect respect for individual freedoms across the republic as a whole. May Americans never become pressed harder toward becoming refugees for their basic rights, but, if they do, may the system of many states provide them that option.