Who's Voting with their Feet for Texas and Why
Recent articles in the Texas Monthy and the New York Times provide some useful insight on why Texas has been gaining migrants at such a high rate.
Back in May, I wrote about how Texas has become a major magnet for people "voting with their feet" from other states. I built on a Washington Post article addressing that issue. More recently, Texas Monthly and Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times have published additional articles on the same topic, both of which shed some further light on these matters. Overall, both articles reinforce my and others' previous conclusion that Texas' success is primarily due to cheap housing (thanks to having dramatically weaker land-use restrictions than many states on the east and west coasts), low taxes, and extensive job opportunities created in part by relatively low regulation.
Here's Manjoo's summary of Texas' appeal:
As the Golden Gate shuts, the Lone Star beckons. If you're looking for an affordable, economically vibrant city that is less likely to be damaged by climate change than many other American cities, our data shows why Texas is a new land of plenty. For the many hypothetical life scenarios I ran through our quiz, the suburbs around Dallas — places like Plano, McKinney, Garland, Euless and Allen — came up a lot. It's clear why these are some of the fastest-growing areas in the country. They have relatively little crime and are teeming with jobs, housing, highly rated schools, good restaurants, clean air and racial and political diversity — all at a steep discount compared to the cost of living in America's coastal metropolises.
Manjoo also notes, as have other analysts, that much of the in-migration to Texas (about 42% in 2019) comes from California, which suffers by comparison because of its much higher taxes and living costs.
Here is the Texas Monthly's summary of Texas's growth:
The Texas population grew by about four million people in the past decade—far more than any other state in raw numbers, and enough as a percentage to make it the third-fastest-growing state in the nation over that period, behind Utah and Idaho. Roughly 3,800 more people move here every week than move out of state. Tick down any list of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and Texas shows up again and again. Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio all landed on the list of cities with a population gain of at least 100,000 over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its latest data in August. Frisco easily topped the list of large cities, followed by a lot of other suburbs and exurbs, such as New Braunfels, McKinney, and Conroe….
That growth, of course, has come with plenty of hand-wringing about everything from an overheated housing market to fears of a hostile takeover by liberal coastal elites. News headlines have stoked those worries in the past two years. And then there was Greg Abbott's 2018 campaign slogan: "Don't California My Texas." But perhaps unsurprisingly, partisans may have it wrong.
For one thing, despite all the public focus on Californication, there are intriguing signs that many of the newest arrivals share key characteristics with lifelong Texans. Many are coming for abundant jobs, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a more reasonable cost of living…..
The Texas Monthly also emphasizes how much of the states gain in population comes from ethnic and racial minorities (particularly Hispanics and Asians), and that the state has been a magnet for immigrants from abroad, as well as domestic migrants from other parts of the US.
The article further notes that, despite much speculation to the contrary, the influx of foot voters may have only a modest impact on Texas's political balance:
[A]ccording to Derek Ryan, a GOP political consultant who leads voter-targeting efforts for candidates up and down the ballot, there's very little data to support either argument—that Texas is growing more conservative because of ideological sorting or that it's becoming more liberal at the hands of Californians…
According to Ryan's best analysis, 50.4 percent of his possible new Texans were likely Democratic voters, and 49.6 percent were likely Republicans. "So, you know," he said, "we hear a lot about these people moving from blue states and bringing blue-state politics with them, but it doesn't necessarily appear that that's the case. It's closer to right in the middle. There are certainly some hard-core liberals moving here that are still voting that way, but it appears that it's a wash as far as Republicans versus Democrats."
As the article mentions, this undercuts both conservative worries that migration will lead to the "Californification" of Texas and concerns (mostly on the left) that foot voting will lead to a "big sort" in which polarization is exacerbated by people increasingly moving to homogeneous ideological enclaves. It turns out that people with a wide range of political views like to move to places with ample job opportunities, cheaper housing, and relatively low taxes. Both articles also mention that the parts of Texas experiencing the most growth are ones that are racially and ethnically diverse, with large immigrant communities. This suggests that people are increasingly open to living in diverse areas, and that - at the very least - foot voting is not contributing to ethnic and racial segregation.
In Chapter 5 of my book Democracy and Political Ignorance and Chapter 6 of the more recent Free to Move, I go over several reasons why both "big sort" concerns and worries that migration will fundamentally alter the political balance of states are overblown. So far, at least, the Texas experience is consistent with my analysis.
The story of Texas's success with foot voters is not just about the policies of the GOP-dominated state government. Most of the fast-growing parts of the state discussed in the above-referenced articles have Democratic-controlled local governments, most notably the cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and most of their respective suburbs. The Democrats who govern these cities have little love for GOP policies on social issues. But, unlike Democratic-controlled local governments in some other states, they set up relatively few obstacles to new housing construction and job creation.
As I have previously emphasized, acknowledging Texas' success in attracting foot voters does not mean we have to approve of all of the state's policies. Progressives and others can learn valuable lessons from some of the policies, even as they rightly decry abuses as the awful SB 8 anti-abortion law, and Texas Republicans' reprehensible role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In my previous post on Texas and foot voting, I also explain why the state's success is in significant part based on policies that the national GOP has moved away from. Republicans, too, can stand to learn some lessons from Texas.
I should also note that nearly all of the data on Texas' success in attracting migrants predates the enactment of SB 8. If SB 8 remains in force (it might still be invalidated either by Texas state courts or by further federal litigation), it could potentially reduce the state's attractiveness to foot voters.
Although I personally support broad abortion rights and hate SB 8, my tentative judgment is that - for the vast majority of potential migrants - housing costs, taxes, and job opportunities matter far more than abortion. Among other considerations, birth control provides a valuable alternative to abortion for many (though admittedly not all) women, while substitutes for housing and job opportunities are harder to come by. Over the last decade or two, variation in abortion restrictions does not seem to have been a significant driver of migration decisions.
But, due to the influence - up till now - of Roe v. Wade - we don't have any recent evidence of the impact of abortion restrictions as draconian as those of SB 8. If the law remains in force, its impact on Texas' appeal to migrants remains to be seen. It's certainly possible I am underestimating its potential effects.
With that important caveat, Texas's success in attracting foot voters deserves recognition, and provides useful lessons for other states. Liberal publications such as the Times, the Post, and the Texas Monthly deserve credit for acknowledging that and for their efforts to investigate the issue.