From deep red Texas to bright blue Oregon to purple Florida, America’s fastest-growing counties overwhelmingly are trending Republican.
The latest population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau make that starkly clear. Of the 100 counties of at least 10,000 residents that had the fastest growth rates from July 2015 to July 2016, 93 voted for President Donald Trump in November. Just six backed Democrat Hillary Clinton. The political leanings of the 100th, Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Alaska, are unclear because that state does not report presidential returns at the county level.
“That signals to me that people are leaving a lot of states that have liberal policies and coming to states with conservative policies.”
Clinton won 26 of the 100 counties that lost population at the fastest rate. That is a higher share than her performance nationwide, when she carried about 16 percent of counties.
Many of the biggest Democratic strongholds shed population. Cook County in Illinois, home to Chicago, experienced the steepest numerical decline of any county in the country. It lost 21,324 people in one year. The second-biggest loser was Wayne County in Michigan, home to Detroit, followed by Baltimore and Ohio’s Cuyahoga County (Cleveland). All are overwhelmingly Democratic. Seven of the 10 counties with the biggest numerical declines backed Clinton.
“That signals to me that people are leaving a lot of states that have liberal policies and coming to states with conservative policies,” said Mike Joyce, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party.
Joyce should know. His state has nearly a quarter of the top 100 fastest-growing counties. All but one of those 24 counties went for Trump.
Joyce said the population growth is a double-edged sword. Texas expects to add congressional districts after the next census in 2020, which will increase its political muscle. At the same time, he added, many of the newcomers are from liberal bastions like California.
[lz_table title=”Residents Fleeing Dem Strongholds” source=”Census Bureau”]Counties with biggest numeric population loss 2015 to 2016.
|County,Pop Loss,2016 vote
San Juan County,-3.6K,Trump
St. Louis County,-3.5K,Clinton
“I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of them are Democrats who are seeking to evade and avoid the very policies they voted for,” he said, adding that it has given rise to a favorite local saying: “Don’t California my Texas.”
All of the counties from Georgia that made the list voted for Trump, as did all of the ones from from Idaho and Utah. Trump carried 15 of 16 Florida counties on the list and six of seven in Colorado. Both are politically competitive states.
Even in some blue sates, the fastest growth rates are in Trump counties. Clinton handily carried Washington State and Oregon. But the five counties in those West Coast states that made the top 100 all backed the president.
Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said Republicans might see that growth as a good sign.
“We can’t be certain, though, that they’re always going to be solidly red counties going forward,” he said.
Kopko said that if the growth is coming from people moving from heavily Democratic areas or from immigration, it might eventually change the conservative political character of those counties.
On the other hand, Kopko said, a growing population in Republican areas will make it easier for the GOP to draw political districts that benefit the party — at least in the near term. This is particularly true when Republicans control the redistricting process, as they currently do in most states.
“This is where the legislative gerrymandering is going to mater,” he said.
Joyce noted the federal courts have begun to take a more skeptical view of gerrymandering. If population growth disproportionately occurs in conservative areas, that will make it easier for Republicans to create friendly districts without having to resort to oddly shaped boundaries, he said.
Joyce said Texas presents a different challenge to the GOP. By 2020, he said, Democratic-leaning Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso will have a big enough combined population to control state elections — at least, theoretically.
“Our work will be cut out for us going forward,” he said. “After 2020 is where it kind of gets interesting.”