That’s small comfort to Democrats in the short term. The changes result in a three-seat shift away from states carried by Joe Biden. In an extremely tight race, those three seats — which translate to three electoral college votes — could be the difference between a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. This transfer will also slightly improve the GOP’s chances of retaking House control in 2022. Election analyst Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball estimates that Republicans will gain a net two House seats simply because of reapportionment. Since they start only five seats down, that small advantage could be decisive.
The longer-term trends should worry Democrats more. Since 1960, states in the Midwest or Northeast have lost 66 House seats. Forty-seven of those seats came from states Biden carried while 19 came from Trump states. States, mainly in the South or West, that received the lion’s share of these people tend to have much lower taxes and less business regulation than do the states they left. Thirty-seven of those 66 seats went to states without an income tax, while another 12 went to states whose combined state and local tax burdens ranked among the 10 lowest.
Even outlier states that have gained seats, such as California, Colorado and Oregon, stand out as cautionary tales. Oregon has no state sales tax, and Colorado is ranked 34th among the 50 states and D.C. in its tax burden. Biden carried Colorado by 13.5 points in 2020, but those same people also voted to cut the state’s flat income tax in a ballot measure. California, meanwhile, lost a congressional seat this census for the first time since it joined the Union in 1850. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are leaving the state each year, mainly from the high-cost regions of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, to move to other states. Even those who stay don’t always vote for progressive policies, as evidenced by the defeat last year of a ballot initiative that would have raised property taxes on business.
People have been voting with their feet for 60 years, and the verdict is clear: People prefer economic policies that generate growth and jobs without increasing taxes. Yet the Biden administration is proposing a raft of policies that will massively increase government spending while increasing taxes on businesses of all stripes and families who make $400,000 or more. And that doesn’t account for the economic effects of Biden’s climate policies, which are sure to harm millions of Americans whose livelihoods rely on the production or extensive use of fossil fuels.
None of this means that Americans favor libertarian, small government economics. States that are destinations for migration spend a lot to support an extensive array of public services. But they don’t embrace the Northeast and California models of hiking spending in good years and raising taxes during downturns. Instead, they employ a prudent, centrist approach of investing in sound government programs and cutting taxes on the margin. Biden seemed to campaign as a person who would pursue prudent centrism, but instead he is governing like a governor of a deep blue state from which many of these voters fled.
Demography is not destiny, but facts don’t lie either. The same Americans whose migration is making historically Republican states toss-ups also favor economic policies that are significantly to the right of progressive orthodoxy. This fact creates a real dilemma for Biden and the Democrats.
Trying to capture these more centrist voters could create an intraparty civil war, as progressives already unhappy with the slow state of change might erupt. But ignoring those voters risks the real possibility of a rapid Republican comeback — provided that the GOP avoids the Donald Trump-era image of an intolerant, nativist party. Perhaps that is why Democrats are doubling down on their divisive tactics to portray the Republican Party as racist and sexist. That might be good for Democrats, but it’s not good for America.
Every 10 years the census shows us Americans’ revealed preferences as they vote with their feet. Maybe this time, those in power will listen.