Will exodus of Californians to Texas turn the red state blue?

The skyline is seen behind the grounds during a music festival in Austin, Texas, on Oct 16, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON – A California burger chain in Texas may be one indicator of the increased migration of Californians to the southern state with diametrically opposite politics.

What was always thought to be a trickle of Californians moving to Texas has become something of a stream of late – and this raises questions about politics as well as the competitiveness of the United States’ two largest economies.

According to reports, more than one million Californians may have moved to Texas – the second-most populous US state after California, with a population of almost 30 million – since 2008.

Between July 2019 and July 2022, 11.1 per cent of new Texans originated from California – the most of any other state, according to retail location analytics firm Placer.ai and reported in August by Bloomberg.

Texas’ attractions include cheaper housing and cost of living; tech and oil industry opportunities; and less regulation – including, famously, looser pandemic restrictions.

Will the influx of presumably liberal Californians change Texas from red to blue?

No, maintains Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

At a political meeting in Dallas in August, he told supporters: “We have an exchange programme going on – we’re getting the California conservatives, we’re sending them our liberals.”

In January 2020, Mr Abbott tweeted: “To the Californians moving to Texas: Remember those high taxes, burdensome regulations, & socialistic agenda advanced in CA? We don’t believe in that. We believe in less government and more individual freedom. If you agree with that, you’ll fit right in.”

Salaries in Texas – whose top economic sectors are energy, information technology, defence and aerospace, biomedical research and agriculture – are climbing, closing the gap with Northern California’s Bay Area.

Several high-profile companies, including Tesla, have relocated to or planned large expansions in Texas in recent years. The electric vehicle maker, and Silicon Valley tech giants Oracle and Hewlett Packard have moved their headquarters to Texas.

Some analysts say California’s out-migration – in some cases facilitated by work-from-home options – points to the state’s potential decline.

The Mercury News on Monday reported that the Bay Area, which includes San Francisco, has seen its largest drop in median income of any big metro area in the country as wealthy people move away.

Household income in the San Francisco metro area fell 4.6 per cent from 2019 to 2021, to US$116,005 (S$165,086) a year, it reported citing census reports.

Mr Steve Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, told the paper: “Once (tech workers) didn’t have to work here or live here, it makes sense they would move and take their incomes with them.”

For Texas, however, the influx is fuelling growth in businesses like the California chain In-N-Out Burger, which saw monthly visits up 24 per cent in July compared with three years ago.

The Californian migrants are a net positive for the state, bringing wealth, creativity and dynamism, Dr Kenneth Miller, Rose Professor of state and local government at Claremont McKenna College, said in a panel hosted by the Texas Tribune newspaper.

“I also think it’s important to note that newcomers can change a place in some respects” he said. “Californians will change Texas in important ways, but a place changes newcomers as well.

“As people migrate from California and other places to Texas, they’re going to absorb and adopt a lot of the cultural and philosophical attitudes of Texas. It’s just a natural thing in cultural psychology.”

Dr Sergio Garcia-Rios, an assistant professor of government and Latino studies at Cornell University, said: “I think Texas is going to be the most important state in terms of electoral politics and definitely presidential elections.

“It’s going to be a key state, and I think it’s definitely getting closer and closer to being a battleground.”

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