You might expect Tate, who favors free enterprise, to applaud the pioneering spirit of these ex-New Yorkers and Californians, but instead she is sounding an alarm. These blue-state refugees, she warns, are fleeing the failures of liberal policies but paradoxically bringing oppressive big government with them. “They often vote for the same blue state policies that caused them to move in the first place,” she writes.
Tate asserts that a low quality of life and high cost of living in Democratic-controlled states push residents to low-tax states that have historically leaned Republican. But the subsequent political changes brought on by the new arrivals have jolted places such as Virginia and Colorado, and now threaten North Carolina and even rock-ribbed Texas. “The upper-middle-class scolds who import failed policies of their former homes,” she writes, are “coming for second-tier cities in traditionally conservative states with their condescending view of your lifestyle: expect the Cultural Revolution in Denver, Phoenix, and even Dallas next.”
In our politically polarized country, where liberals and conservatives increasingly prefer politically homogenous communities, any large-scale migration is a social, economic and political development that merits deep examination. Unfortunately, Tate reduces the complex subject to a simple message for conservative readers: Be afraid.
Tate’s focus broadens from the South and West to population migration generally across the country. Her reporting consists of visits to friends and family in Denver; Knoxville, Tenn.; Fairfax County, Va.; and New Hampshire — where she grew up and, she fears, migrants from Massachusetts threaten its native character. She puts a lot of implausibly precise facts and figures in the mouths of her always earnest-sounding conversation partners. When Tate wonders if many Hispanics are moving to New Hampshire, her friend Rachel informs her, “There’s been a 23.1 percent increase in the Hispanic population . . . over the last eight years.” When Tate goes in search of Ye Olde Yankee Market in Lebanon, N.H., she discovers that a bodega called Las Americas Deli Grocery has replaced it, prompting her to worry further about Hispanic migration. “Hispanic neighbors are welcome additions to the cities and towns of New Hampshire, but as voters they can make a difference in electoral outcomes,” she writes. “It’s a demographic that almost always votes Democratic, regardless of what part of the nation they live in.”
Tate aims to alarm conservative readers by suggesting that a takeover of government by migrant liberals is imminent in red states. “What happens as residents in historically red regions start realizing their state is slipping from their grasp?” she writes. “What happens when their ‘social betters’ in positions of power realize that their authority is now nearly unchecked?”
The book is irritatingly sloppy: An entire section containing speculation on the outcome of the 2018 elections wasn’t updated to reflect the results. In one instance, Tate claims that migrants lean “even bluer” than young New Hampshirites — and then she cites data showing the opposite, thus undermining her claim that newcomers are to blame for the Granite State’s growing liberalism. “As you might suspect, the younger voters tend to vote blue,” she writes. “But the migrants vote even bluer. Research has shown that 45 percent of young voters and 42 percent of migrant voters are likely to identify as Democrats.”
If the specifics of her case are problematic, more significant is a serious weakness in the book’s premise: Tate believes people are fleeing New York City and the state, for instance, because of its political governance. “Increasing costs and worsening conditions under Sandinista-supporting New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, together with restrictive policies strangling corporate growth in the rest of the state, make the state a demographic disaster,” she writes. “Americans just don’t want to live in the blue states governed by Democrats anymore.”
In truth, it’s the cost of housing in or near New York City, Boston, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles that’s driving people away. There, demand exceeds supply, creating exorbitant prices. The housing market indicates that people want to live in these areas, but many middle-class families cannot afford the space they desire.
If life in New York is so awful, why does it cost so much to live there? You’d never know from reading this book that New York City’s crime is at historic lows, high school graduation rates are up, and polls show that most New Yorkers would like to stay there but cannot afford it. It’s inconvenient for Tate that the city is still growing, while rural, Republican-leaning Upstate New York is economically stagnant and losing residents. Tate tries to explain by arguing that decades of Democratic-dominated state government are the cause of Upstate’s problems. But until last year, for all but three years since World War II, the New York Senate was controlled by Republicans. And any serious examination of the root of Upstate’s problems, such as deindustrialization, shows they are the same as those throughout the Rust Belt.
The real policy failure in high-demand urban areas is that they don’t produce enough housing to keep pace with demand. If they did, fewer residents of these progressive bastions would be moving to Tennessee and Georgia; some economists project that the migration patterns could actually reverse. The most significant factor restricting the supply of housing and driving up prices is suburban-sprawl zoning that allows only single-family homes, surrounded by empty space and parking. Typically, as seen in a controversial proposal to legalize two-family homes throughout Virginia, it is liberals from cities and inner-ring suburbs who advocate for more housing, and conservatives who favor restricting development to only single-family homes, perhaps because their supporters tend to live in lower-density exurbs and rural areas. So Tate writes around the core issue, inveighing against progressive-minded local building regulations that demand energy efficiency and drive up the cost of construction, while ignoring rules that limit how much housing can be built and that typically are more responsible for increasing housing prices.
Tate overlooks another trend: that the urban areas in red states that are growing fastest, such as Knoxville, Tucson and North Carolina’s Research Triangle, are already liberal, especially compared with their surroundings. It is precisely their crunchy cosmopolitan culture that attracts newcomers from the coasts. But a reader of “The Liberal Invasion of Red State America” would think that hipsters in skinny jeans are drawn to Austin because they like Texas’s low taxes and skimpy environmental regulation rather than the music scene and Mexican food.
Tate’s reporting would have benefited from interviews with experts, especially in growing industries such as tech. If high taxes and excessive regulations are choking off growth in blue states, why is venture capital so heavily clustered in or near Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston? Tate even cites Northern Virginia, an economically dynamic magnet for highly educated workers and upwardly mobile immigrants, as proof that liberals have ruined a former red state because, she writes, “demographic shifts have turned Virginia from a conservative Southern state into an increasingly left-leaning territory for Democrats.” Yet, despite Democrats’ supposed tendency to ruin blue states with taxes and regulations, the area won the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters.
Is it possible that the public goods and amenities offered by liberal urban areas — such as museums, mass transit, ethnic diversity and educated workforces — are more important to high-paying companies (and the employees they must recruit) than tax rates? Tate implies that Arlington, Va., offered inducements larger than those from red-state cities. It did not. Amazon wanted to be in an urban hub. (The company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
It’s too bad that Tate’s analysis is so ideologically blinkered, because a more open-minded exploration of America’s demographic shifts and their political implications would be a welcome endeavor. But for conservative pundits, the easiest profit is made from drumming up fear among older white readers — and that’s all Tate’s book is likely to accomplish.
The Liberal Invastion of Red State America
By Kristin B. Tate
Regnery. 232 pp. $28.99