Idaho’s newcomers are reinforcing its political makeup, not changing it

Jeffrey Lyons//December 4, 2017//

Idaho’s newcomers are reinforcing its political makeup, not changing it

Jeffrey Lyons//December 4, 2017//

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jeffrey-lyonsIdaho’s new arrivals hail from many different corners of the country, but the highest numbers are coming from nearby Western states such as California and Washington.  While there are many economic implications of this growth, there may also be political consequences.  Most of the states that people are moving to Idaho from are noted for their primarily liberal political climate – a stark contrast to conservative Idaho.  This (potential) clash raises the possibility that liberals from states like California and Washington are going to change Idaho as they continue to move here in large numbers, eventually making it a less conservative state.

To explore this possibility, I used the 2017 Idaho Public Policy Survey, conducted by the School of Public Service at Boise State University.  The survey asked a representative sample of 1,000 Idahoans a series of questions about their political and policy preferences, as well as some questions about whether they had moved to the state (and from where), or lived here all of their lives.

With this information in hand, I compared the political attitudes of those who have moved to Idaho, to those who have lived here all of their lives.  If we observe that the citizens who are moving here are decidedly more liberal than native Idahoans, it would suggest that Idaho’s conservative political climate may be threatened in the future as migration to the state continues.  On the other hand, if we see that those moving to Idaho hold similar political beliefs to those who already live here, it would mean that migration to Idaho is reinforcing rather than challenging the conservative nature of the state.

After looking at the data, the latter of these two possibilities finds support – those who have moved to Idaho are predominantly Republicans, and the percentage of Republicans and Democrats for movers looks nearly identical to native Idahoans.

Looking at those who were born outside of Idaho and moved here, 50 percent identified as Republicans, and 29 percent as Democrats.  For those who have lived in Idaho all of their lives, 54 percent were Republicans and 26 percent were Democrats.

While there are minor differences between the two groups, they are so small that they may just be a result of the sample that was drawn.  If we look specifically at the Californians who have moved here, 60 percent report being Republicans, and 25 percent identify as Democrats.  No discernable differences exist between the partisanship of native Idahoans and those who were born out of state and have moved here, and that includes those who have come from California.  Even though states like Washington and California are largely liberal, it appears to the conservatives from those states that are coming here.

Rather than potentially changing Idaho’s political composition, movers to the state appear to be reinforcing it.

This finding is not entirely surprising, as some have made the argument that people are increasingly “sorting” into new locations based on their political beliefs – Republicans moving to Republican places and Democrats moving to Democratic places.  The data here support that argument.

With these findings in mind, a few qualifications are in order.  Showing that movers are generally Republican does not necessarily mean that Idaho will remain a conservative stronghold.  Changes can come in other ways, such as if younger generations hold different beliefs than older ones (it appears that this is the case, at least at the national level).  Another possibility is that migration patterns could change as Idaho’s economy grows and more people move here for career reasons.

Despite these qualifications, it appears for the time being that Republicans should not fear that Californians (or other movers) are changing the political culture of the state.  For a more extensive discussion of these findings, see a piece that I published in the Blue Review.

Jeffrey Lyons is an assistant professor in the School of Public Service at Boise State University.  He researches American public opinion and political behavior.