The Demographic Spread of Liberalism

by Jonah Goldberg

I’ve long pondered writing a big piece for the magazine on how liberal areas of the country, chiefly California but also New York City and Boston, export more liberalism than they can consume domestically. Retired Californians in Washington State, Wyoming, and Oregon have moved politics to the left. Emigrants from Massachusetts have pushed Vermont and New Hampshire left.

If you have anecdotes, data, insights about all that, please send along. In the meantime, the actual topic I wanted to raise only tangentially has to do with any of that. Specifically: How come conservatives aren’t out-”breeding” liberals? Every now and then some conservative notes that  pro-lifers tend not to abort their children while pro-choicers are more likely to. James Taranto has written about this “Roe effect” a bunch of times: “Pro-lifers can pass their values on to their children; those who abort their children can’t.”

I find the logic fairly unassailable, as far as it goes — i.e. if you hold all of the other variables at bay. America has become more pro-life, and you could argue it’s become more conservative since 1973 as well. Whether that has much to do with the Roe effect, I have no idea. But forget abortion; I could swear I’ve read that social conservatives have a much higher fertility rate than urban liberals.

So how come it sure seems like the liberal states are exporting liberal citizens to conservative states and not the other way around?

I can think of a bunch of possible partial answers. One might be that the conservatives are in fact doing exactly that, it’s just that when they move to liberal states they tend to be young and career- and/or family-oriented. Meanwhile, the aging liberals are retired and bored, so they get involved in politics. Another might be that social conservatives retire to socially conservative places and so they have no discernible impact on local politics. Meanwhile liberals have done such a good job making their communities too expensive that they have to move someplace cheaper when they retire.

Another possible answer is that conservatives aren’t as good at transmitting their values to their kids as many claim (Did you see yesterday’s Washington Post story on opposition the Ryan plan in Wisconsin? It’s a pretty depressing snapshot. I write about it here). Anyway, I have lots of ideas on the subject, but mostly in the thinking-out-loud category. So I figured I’d throw it out in the Corner and see what happens.

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