Politics & Policy

Census 2015 Shows Growing Cultural and Political Polarization


The Census Bureau has delivered its annual Christmas gift to demographic junkies: its estimates of the populations of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for mid-2015.

They show where the nation has been growing since the April 2010 Census headcount, a period that follows the end of the 2007–09 recession and includes three-fourths of the Obama presidency. They show what states Americans have been moving in and out of, and what states have attracted the most immigrants.

They’re worth looking at, because the cold precision of the numbers provides clues to the warm impulses of human hearts, where people choose to pursue dreams or escape nightmares.

During this five-year period the nation’s population increased from 308.8 million to 321.4 million, which sounds like a lot — we’re the third-most-populous nation in the world — but in fact is slightly lower in percentage terms than any such period since the 1930s.

Growth was highly uneven. The biggest percentage growth rates were in fracking-rich North Dakota (13 percent), the gentrifying District of Columbia (12 percent), and the much bigger states of Texas (9 percent), Colorado, Utah, and Florida (8 percent). The big percentage gainers of the 2000-2010 decade, Nevada and Arizona, gained at lesser rates this decade, as did Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.

Altogether 45 percent of the nation’s population growth occurred in three Sun Belt states: Texas, California, and Florida. But it was from quite different sources. In Texas and Florida, there was more net migration from other states — domestic inflow — than immigration. This was true also of the fast-growing North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Washington. 

Political analysts in the last decade predicted that heavy immigration would make these states more Democratic. But in this decade it looks like any such movement will depend more on domestic migrants, who seem Democratic-leaning in some states (Washington and North Carolina) but not others (Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Arizona).

In any case, as the Pew Research Center has documented, there has been no net immigration from Mexico since 2008; incomers have been matched by those who “self-deport.” That finds confirmation in the 2015 estimates, which show immigration numbers in 2010–15 sharply lower than in 2000–08 in states that have had heavy Mexican inflows: California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Illinois.

Republican states gained 2.3 million newcomers, split evenly between immigration and domestic inflow. In contrast, Democratic states lost 1.8 million from domestic outflow but gained 2.8 million immigrants — more than half the national immigration total.

Immigration in this decade has exceeded the national rate in only twelve states and D.C., with the highest rates in Florida and the Northeast (D.C., New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia).

In these states and in California and Washington, immigrants seem to be increasingly Asians, many with high skill levels, rather than Latinos, almost all relatively low-skill. Those of us who have urged revising immigration law to favor high-skill newcomers are apparently seeing something like that result produced by market forces under current law.

The high-immigration states plus Illinois have had the nation’s highest rates of domestic outflow, reflecting high tax rates, heavy regulation, and high housing prices. In effect, they’re trading Americans for immigrants, the political result of which is a tendency to make these states even more heavily Democratic.

This is apparent when you group states by political tendency. The 23 Republican states have grown 5.1 percent in 2010–15, the eleven target states 4.2 percent, and the 16 Democratic states plus D.C. 3.2 percent. (I classify Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin as target states. You can probably guess which of the others are Republican and Democratic.)

Republican states gained 2.3 million newcomers, split evenly between immigration and domestic inflow. Target states gained 2.0 million, two-thirds from immigration and one-third from domestic inflow. In contrast, the Democratic states lost 1.8 million from domestic outflow but gained 2.8 million immigrants — more than half the national immigration total.

Overall, population increase and mobility are both down from the previous decade; people tend to hunker down in straitened economic times. Annual immigration numbers remained about the same in 2010–15 as 2000–08, but for those earlier years they probably understate the flow of illegal immigrants, which seems to have been much larger then than recently.

But the tendency is continuing for Americans and immigrants to seek out others of their own kind, and for people of differing cultural values and political views to choose to live in different states and communities. All of which suggests that today’s political polarization is not going away any time soon.

Michael Barone — Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

National Security & Defense

So Long to the Iran Deal

Almost immediately after the news broke that President Trump intends to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, media figures speculated that the decision was about Russia. The argument went like this: Tillerson was fired because he had recently criticized the Russian government ... Read More
Economy & Business

The Swamp: Navarro Nucor Edition

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about the ties between President Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, and the biggest steel company in the U.S. -- Nucor Corp. It is particularly interesting in light of the stiff steel tariffs successfully pushed by Navarro, which he championed ever since he joined the ... Read More


EMPIRICAL   As I can fathom neither endlessness nor the miracle work of deities, I hypothesize, assume, and guess.   The fact that I love you and you love me is all I can prove and proves me. — This poem appears in the April 2 print issue of National Review. Read More

Nancy MacLean Won’t Quit

One of the biggest intellectual jousting matches last year was between Duke history professor Nancy MacLean, who wrote a slimy, dishonest book about Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan and the whole limited-government movement, and the many scholars who blasted holes in it. If it had been a boxing ... Read More

How Germany Vets Its Refugees

At the height of the influx of refugees into Germany in 2015–17, there was little doubt that mixed among the worthy cases were economic migrants taking advantage of the chaos to seek their fortunes in Europe. Perhaps out of instinctive pro-immigrant sentiment, Germany’s Left obscured the difference. Its ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Leave McMaster Be

About every two months, there are rumors that Gen. H. R. McMaster might be let go as Trump’s national-security adviser (along with many other stellar appointees). The world, however, is a much more logical and predictable place than it was 14 months ago. We’ve restored ties to the Gulf monarchies; Israel ... Read More