A number of major entertainment industry juggernauts have announced that they may cease production in Georgia if the state implements a sweeping ban on abortion that Gov. Brian Kemp (R) recently signed into law.
It’s the most recent example of a new kind of political activism: Leveraging the power of capitalism — and the self-preservation instincts of corporate America — to try to enact political change on social issues. A particularly effective example was seen in North Carolina several years ago, when the state’s prohibitions on bathroom use by transgender people met with similar opposition. That law, which prompted the NCAA to move March Madness games out of the state, was eventually repealed.
In the case of Georgia, opposition has been led in part by actress Alyssa Milano. Georgia is a popular place for filming (thanks in part to generous state incentives); Milano’s aim is to use that economic activity as leverage. That she is a prominent member of the industry certainly helps.
The point of pressure on the companies themselves is that doing business in Georgia will hurt their bottom line — that Americans outside of Georgia will find the state’s law so distasteful that they will punish those businesses that remain in the state. Call us cynical, but it seems more likely that Netflix and Disney are more worried about financial blowback from remaining in Georgia than they are about the specifics of the law the state has passed.
That assumption seems to rest on the idea that there are more customers in places that would oppose a law like Georgia’s than in places that would support it. Overlaying economic activity with political leaning — using 2016 voting as a proxy — suggests that this is broadly true.
The country’s biggest economic engines tend to be cities, and cities tend to vote Democratic. Gross domestic product (here using county data for 2015, the most recent year available) isn’t a perfect proxy for wealth, but it correlates.
As has been noted elsewhere, counties that supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 generated twice the economic activity as counties that voted for President Trump. Grouping county vote margins into buckets, the most economic activity was generated in counties that backed Clinton by between a 10- and 30-point margin.
A better way of looking at how 2016 voting correlates to county GDP is to compare vote margins and economic activity directly.
In doing so, the imbalance becomes more obvious. Clinton won 503 counties in 2016; 57 of those counties had higher GDP than all but three of the 2,600-plus counties that backed Trump.
This isn’t the calculus that these companies are undertaking, of course, but as a proxy for economic clout it seems useful.
Except that it also buries an important detail: A lot of non-Democrats and Trump voters live in counties that voted for Clinton. There are far more Democrats than Republicans in Los Angeles County, sure, but there were still hundreds of thousands of people in that wealthy county who supported the president.
If we apply the GDP in each county proportionately to the county’s 2016 vote, the dynamics change. As a function of voters in each county, the difference is more subtle. There’s approximately 1.3 times as much economic activity per Clinton vote as per Trump vote — a less dramatic difference than looking at counties overall.
It’s inherently risky for corporations to take actions that are predicated on divisive political issues. Those risks can seem less risky when considering that economic productivity is linked to places that tend to vote more liberally — even if that imbalance isn’t as overwhelming as it might seem.