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Photo: RBerteig, Published under the Attribution 2.0 Generic license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).

The Results Are In: Red States Won The COVID Fight, Hands Down

In the state-level struggle for the future of America, there can be little doubt: The Red State model of free markets, low taxes, and minimal regulation is beating the daylights out of the Blue State model of top-down control, high taxes, and pervasive nanny-state regulation. But will it last?

The Wall Street Journal, deploying data from the center-left Brookings Institution, last month reported that Blue states, those governed by Democrats, were still 1.3 million jobs short of where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Red states, those led by Republicans, had managed to add 350,000 jobs.

A big reason for the disparity is the fact that millions fled Blue states during COVID.

“Forty-six million people moved to a different ZIP Code in the year through February 2022, the most in any 12-month period in records going back to 2010,” the Journal wrote. And most of them moved from Blue to Red states, with Florida, Texas, and North Carolina the biggest gainers, while California, New York, and Illinois lost the most.

Big, blue cities, in particular, lost huge numbers of people as soaring crime, sidewalk homeless encampments, COVID lockdowns, high taxes, and miserably underperforming schools made once-beautiful metropolises unlivable for many.

For example, San Francisco, the political base of both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lost a stunning 6.3% of its population during the pandemic, Census data show.

As a whole, California has lost thousands of families, not to mention a number of major Silicon Valley tech companies, to Red state competitors such as Florida and Texas, according to a study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, which used moving-van data from multiple states.

As the San Jose Mercury News reported last month:

Only Illinois ranked worse off than the Golden State when it came to moving vans heading for the border during the pandemic, according to the report, which focused on data from the moving company United Van Lines. In 2018-19, 56% of moves in California were families fleeing the state. In 2020-21, that figure jumped to nearly 60%.

The state that was by far the biggest draw of California residents? It was Texas, the destination for more than 7,500 California families during the four years in the study, perhaps little surprise given that Silicon Valley’s tech giants like Oracle, Tesla and Hewlett Packard Enterprise picked up and moved their headquarters there too.

These aren’t the first to show this trend. Earlier research, based on IRS data, shows that Blue states aren’t just hemorrhaging population, but tax revenues and jobs as well.

A report by Wirepoints, a nonprofit Illinois-based research organization, showed just how big the Blue state losses have been:

On the losing side, New York suffered the worst outflow of money of any state in 2020. The Empire State lost a net $19.5 billion in income, or 2.5% of its 2019 AGI, while a net of nearly 250,000 residents moved out.

California was next, losing a net $17.8 billion and 263,000 people. Illinois was third with a net loss of $8.5 billion and 101,000 people. Massachusetts and New Jersey were in fourth and fifth place, with $2.6 and $2.3 billion in income losses, respectively.

And who were the winners?

The Sunshine State attracted over $41.1 billion in Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from 624,000 new residents (tax filers and their dependents) that moved into Florida in 2020. On the flip side, Florida lost $17.4 billion in AGI from 457,000 people who left. Overall, Florida came out ahead with 167,000 net new people and $23.7 billion in net new taxable income.

That’s a total gain of about 3.3% of the state’s total 2019 AGI ($711 billion).

Texas was the runner up with a net income gain of $6.3 billion, followed by Arizona with $4.8 billion. North and South Carolina rounded out the top five with net gains of $3.8 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively.

It can no longer be doubted: The Republican model of governance has shown itself to be vastly more attractive to Americans, especially those in deteriorating Blue states who are voting with their feet to escape.

But there’s another question pending: Will Red states soon find their Blue state immigrants brought their old voting habits and ways of thinking with them after they move in, creating a kind of Blue state pandemic?

A recent piece in City Journal noted that some Blue states are actually marketing themselves as bastions of leftist culture, trying to lure former citizens to return.

In this, California’s Newsom takes the cake for chutzpah, running a commercial in Texas and Florida with this message:

Freedom is under attack by Republican leaders in states like Florida. Banning books. Restricting speech. Making it harder to vote. Criminalizing women and doctors. I urge all of you to join us in California, where we still believe in freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom to choose.

Meanwhile, other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, have used the recent Dobbs U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade to encourage those who have left to return by enacting new laws that liberalize abortion in their states.

Will this Blue state approach work? Doubtful. Those who moved didn’t do so for transient or light reasons. They did so because they were angry and fed up enough to pull up stakes and relocate someplace entirely new.

Given time, most people who move adopt the mores, attitudes, and ways of the majority population where they live, not vice versa. That’s the hope, anyway.

Just to be sure, Republican leaders should make a concerted effort to remind those fleeing Blue states why they voted with their feet for Red states, and make it clear that they don’t want to replicate the leftist idiocy of California, Illinois, New Jersey, or other Blue failures.

Along those lines, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has proposed that Red states create a “welcome wagon,” and the Foundation for Economic Education introduced a “Fresh Start States initiative” to keep Red states red. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill creating the “1836 project,” which, as he described it, “promotes patriotic education & ensures future generations understand TX values.”

“Texas: Love It Or Leave It” bumper stickers, anyone?

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.

13 comments

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  • Common sense should attract voters to conservative success (if they read articles such as these, and not msn gobble de gook.) But from the experience in Europe, immigrants bring their culture with them, and while fleeing oppression back home, seek to recreate similar conditions in the host country; women’s freedoms are curtailed, Christianity is attacked, religious fatwas are enacted in an egalitarian state; divisiveness is encouraged. Much as a long term prisoner must still pace a cage length, after liberation. Freedom can be terrifying to a people used to be commanded. “There’s too much sky for me.”

  • You forgot to mention that red states had far higher death tolls from COVID. On purpose. Because you’re amoral scum.

    • Your comment is not only entirely false, it is also rude.
      A little research will improve your knowledge, but probably not your attitude.
      Have a nice day.

    • You’re a freakin’ liar. The official stats have the top 10 at California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey.

      It has nothing to do with red/blue but population. Talk about amoral scum….. the definition of it is you.

      • Dear Mark, yes I guess you can use stats for the most deaths by population, but most folks would use % of deaths per 100,000 so it equalizes states. Using that the top ten states are: Mississippi; Arizona; Alabama; West Virginia; New Mexico; Tennessee; Arkansas; New Jersey, Louisiana & Michigan. When we think about the early stages of COVID-19, it was a time when there was no vaccine and we were all trying to unravel how it spread. During that time New York and New Jersey were getting pummeled with deaths as they, Washington state and California all have substantially higher international travel. You don’t even see New York, California or Washington on the top ten list though because their policies took COVID-19 more seriously. Was there an economic cost to those policies, sure. Was it major? Not at all.
        The editorial is quite slanted and implies that most folks who changed zip codes moved from Blue states to red states. In fact most folks moved within their state or even region. 280,000 folks did leave California during 2021. With California’s huge population that amounts to 7/10s of 1%. Not exactly a big percentage statistically. As an example the states where the most Californians moved to: Texas (Red) (82,235, or 2/10s of 1%); Arizona (toss-up); Nevada (very light blue); Washington (blue); Oregon (blue); Colorado (blue); Florida (Light red); and New York (Deep blue). So not exactly a groundswell for red states. I don’t see Arkansas; Mississippi; Kentucky; Wyoming; Indiana; or West Virginia on that list. Deep Red Utah is #11 though.
        The #1 reason they left was not politics, but crazy high housing prices which makes it harder to raise a family. High housing costs come primarily as a result of demand, not lack thereof.
        So did the red states win the COVID-19 fight? Hardly. Most (Not Utah) let their citizens die in higher percentages to show how “Pro-business” they were. California’s unemployment rate now (June 2022 DOL figures) is: 4.2%. Mississippi’s in 3.8%. So yes California is higher, but not dramatically.
        Take a quick look at Per Capita Real Gross Domestic Product in 2019: Mississippi was $35,015. California was $70,662. Which one is the economic power house?
        To be clear, California has problems. lots of them, with high housing far and away the number one. Think Mississippi, Texas and Florida don’t have problems?

  • I live in s Red County(Siskiyou)in a Blue State(California)and our governor is a idiot

  • Live in Denver. We’re blue in Denver/Boulder corridor. Black mayor,gay governor…corrupt secretary of state…the whole package. But damn it’s beautiful here.

  • COVID was the tipping point, with unnecessary, ineffective and Draconian edicts in the name of health. Most of those blue states were already hemorrhaging residents under the burden of crime, taxes, fiscal lunacy and political corruption. Now if only we could get more leftists perpetually threatening to leave the country to do so.

    • Perhaps you don’t remember when 4,000 people a day were dying in early 2020. The normal pre-COVID number from all causes was 1,722. Maybe, just maybe there was a bit of a crisis going on.

  • Blue states are much wealthier on average than red states. Educational attainment is higher, longevity is longer and wages are higher. Biden won 70% of the economy. Trump won 30%. The economic dynamism that keeps America on top is mostly in the blue states and blue metro areas.

  • Sure is easy to cherrypick states. Mississippi, Arkansas, and WV are among the most Conservative states there are and yet nobody wants to move there. Why is that? They have solid GOP governments that promote freedom and Liberty yet they are the poorest and poorest educated states every year. It sure easy pick on certain states for their issues at the moment, but at least CA, NY, and even my state of Michgan(though it’s far from a BLUE state as it’s had almost total GOP control of the legislature due to gerrymandering for my 48 years other maybe less than 10 of the DEMs controlling the state house) had boomtimes. In many ways they still have features that people come there for. Compare that to Mississippi which has been nothing but the poorest and dumbest state for over 1.5 centuries.

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