Report: Americans flocked to red and purple counties in key Senate-race states following the pandemic

by | Oct 28, 2022

  • Redfin reported that purple counties in key states to this year’s Senate elections gained thousands of residents and became more diverse during the pandemic
  • But migration and shifts in racial makeup may fall short of counteracting the forces favoring Republicans this year
  • The Republican party is steadily gaining momentum, according to polling, and migration could favor the GOP if a lot of people moved to places that more closely matched their political views

More residents moved into red and purple counties in states key to this year’s Senate elections in 2021 than any year in the last decade, according to a new report from Redfin.

The technology-powered real estate company found on Friday that Republican-leaning “red” counties in key states gained roughly 340,000 residents from migration in 2021, the biggest gain since at least 2012. Purple “swing” counties in key states gained about 289,000 residents, also the largest increase in the last 10 years.

The trend is similar for purple counties in non-key states, with those gaining roughly 271,000 residents. Red counties in non-key states gained about 509,000 residents.

“Key” states are those in which either candidate has a shot at winning in the upcoming Senate elections: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Redfin also found that red and purple counties in key states have become more diverse since the pandemic began, continuing a decade-long trend. The report showed that both red and purple counties in key states are less white by about one percentage point than they were in 2019, before the pandemic began.

Specifically, the Redfin found that Hispanic Americans make up a slightly larger share of the population in purple counties in key states than they did before the pandemic, with their population share increasing by half of a percentage point from 2019 to 2021. Black and Asian Americans each barely increased their population share in purple counties in key states during the pandemic, but they have both trended upward over the last decade. 2021 is the most recent year for which this data is available; diversification likely continued throughout 2022.

Redfin noted that increasing diversity could shift votes in purple counties toward Democrats. Eighty-seven percent of Black Americas voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, as did nearly two-thirds (65%) of Latino people and 61% of Asian people, according to a 2020 CNN exit poll.

Which party wins control of the Senate remains a toss-up as of the end of October, according to polling.

“These changes in racial makeup are small but noteworthy,” said Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Taylor Marr. “The pandemic-driven wave of relocation to suburbs and rural areas—which tend to lean more conservative than city centers—made those toss-up places more diverse. The demographic shift isn’t big enough to turn solidly red places blue, but it could move the needle in purple areas.”

“Migration from California to Phoenix helped Democrats win Arizona in the 2020 presidential election for the first time in 24 years, and similar migration trends could tip the Senate midterms in Democrats’ favor in closely matched states like Georgia and Nevada,” Marr added.

Of the 10 states likely in play for this year’s Senate midterms, Nevada and Georgia are particularly closely matched as of the end of October. Arizona is leaning Democrat, but it could feasibly go either way. Winning both Nevada and Georgia would be a major boon for either party’s chance of controlling the Senate.

In Nevada, roughly 20,000 residents moved into purple counties in 2021. The state’s purple counties became nearly one percentage point less white, the biggest racial shift in at least a decade. In Georgia, purple counties gained roughly 4,000 residents in 2021. Georgia’s purple counties are about half a percentage point less white.

And in Arizona, purple counties soared in popularity last year, gaining nearly 80,000 residents. Arizona’s purple counties became nearly three-quarters of a percentage point less white, the biggest racial shift in at least a decade.

Additionally, those states typically attract new residents from traditionally blue areas. For instance, homebuyers moving to Las Vegas from out of town mostly come from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Seattle. Homebuyers moving into Atlanta typically come from New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

But like the nation as a whole, other forces, like the state of the economy, may favor the Republican party in this year’s midterms. And while some of those relocators are bringing a Democratic vote with them, others are moving somewhere that more closely aligns with their conservative values.

“Americans sorting themselves into neighborhoods to live near people similar to them has progressed over the past four decades,” Marr said. “When people relocate, they often choose an area made up of people similar to them. Some of the people, regardless of their race, who left liberal places and moved into red or purple counties were likely frustrated by local responses to the pandemic and relocated to places that better matched their lifestyles and political preferences.”

A Redfin survey conducted in October supports the self-sorting trend. Just 8% of U.S. residents would be enthusiastic about moving to an area where most residents don’t share their political views. Nearly half (46%) would be hesitant to move to such a place.

Today’s report also highlighted how blue counties in key states followed the opposite trend as red and purple counties, losing about 127,000 residents from out-migration in 2021, the biggest population decline in at least the last decade. Redfin said that blue counties in most key states became less white than they were before the pandemic, but not as quickly as red and purple counties.

But movement out of blue counties is more pronounced in states that aren’t key to the Senate midterms, with those ones losing nearly 1.3 million residents. That means blue counties in key states are unlikely to lose their Democratic majorities.


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