Why Blue-State Residents Flocked to South Carolina and Why It Remained Republican?

In Greer, South Carolina, Sandy Zal made a life-altering decision to leave behind the pandemic restrictions of Schenectady, New York, and relocate her family to a place more aligned with their political beliefs. Establishing their business, Freedom Window Tinting, symbolized their newfound sense of liberty in the conservative-leaning state.

Zal, 47, expresses her relief at having the freedom to make decisions for her family that were restricted in New York. For her, the upcoming South Carolina Republican primary is an opportunity to support former President Donald Trump, whom she sees as a champion of the freedoms they cherish.

The Zals’ story is emblematic of a broader trend that has contributed to South Carolina’s steadfast Republican identity despite an influx of newcomers from traditionally blue states.

Analysis of census data by The Wall Street Journal reveals that over a third of the state’s new residents from 2017 to 2021 migrated from blue states, with another quarter originating from red states. The remaining newcomers came from politically diverse regions, including neighboring states like Georgia and North Carolina, or arrived as immigrants.

Despite the influx of new residents into South Carolina, the political landscape of the state remains largely Republican. According to estimates from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor, approximately 57% of voters who migrated to South Carolina during the specified period identify as Republicans.

Democrats make up around 36% of the newcomers, with independents comprising the remaining 7%. These figures closely mirror recent statewide voting patterns in South Carolina.

In the 2022 gubernatorial election, current Republican Governor Henry McMaster secured 58% of the vote, reflecting the state’s conservative leanings. Similarly, in the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump maintained a significant lead over President Biden, with a 12-point margin.

With the upcoming Republican primary, Trump is anticipated to outperform Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor, based on polling data. His victory in the primary is expected to solidify his position as the GOP presidential nominee, potentially as early as next month. Consequently, South Carolina is poised to remain a stronghold for the Republican Party in the upcoming general election.

The migration patterns to the Southern states, exemplified by South Carolina, underscore a noteworthy trend in American demographics: the partisan allegiance of relocating individuals often remains consistent despite geographic moves. A substantial portion of those departing from blue states are Republicans, drawn to the political environment of their new Southern abodes.

In Florida, for instance, Census figures reveal that nearly half of the newcomers arriving between 2017 and 2021 originated from blue states, while only about 29% hailed from red states.

Analysis of voter registration data by L2 indicates that among those who registered to vote, Republicans accounted for 44%, Democrats for 25%, and nonpartisan affiliations for 28%. Similarly, Texas experiences a significant influx from blue states, yet a notable percentage of newcomers are estimated to lean Republican, according to L2 data.

Paul Westcott, L2’s executive vice president, notes that individuals often seek out communities where they align ideologically, even if subconsciously. The appeal of South Carolina lies in its lower cost of living, favorable tax rates, and the presence of like-minded individuals, particularly conservatives.

The growth of Sunbelt states is propelled by various factors, including retirees seeking warmer climates and lower taxes, families pursuing affordability, and corporations attracted by business-friendly policies.

Scott Huffmon, director of the polling department at Winthrop University, highlights that retirees, having benefited from the tax structure of their former residences, often seek out regions offering lower taxes, reduced land prices, and a congenial ideological atmosphere.

Terry Lush, 61, and her husband, John Lush, 62, exemplify this trend. They relocated to Anderson, S.C., from Buffalo, N.Y., two years ago in pursuit of milder weather. The allure of cheaper housing and substantially lower taxes enabled them to comfortably retire in their new Southern home.

Jeffrey Linder, aged 40 and a project manager residing in Greer, recounts his decision to depart from Washington state, where he had lived his entire life. Dissatisfied with the persistently gloomy weather and disheartened by liberal leadership’s failure to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis, Linder sought refuge in regions governed by conservative ideologies. Initially relocating to Florida for two years, he eventually settled in South Carolina, attracted by what he perceives as a genuine concern for community well-being.

In the South, people generally care more and want a good place to live,” Linder remarked, voicing his support for Haley in the upcoming primary.

Similarly, Webb Ellinger, aged 62 and employed in the finance sector, made the move to Greenville from New York three years ago. His decision was primarily driven by the allure of the region’s outdoor recreational opportunities and vibrant culinary scene, with political considerations playing a minor role.

Despite identifying as a Democrat, Ellinger has found himself disillusioned with what he perceives as the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Dissatisfied with the governance in New York, he opted for an independent candidate in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. “Democrats have swung too far to the left for my taste,” Ellinger remarked, expressing his support for Haley in the state’s primary.

Amanda McDougald Scott, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Party, said that people who moved from higher-tax states discover the downsides of lower levies. “They quickly realize they don’t have all the same services, amenities, nice things that they had in blue states” without the same taxes, she said.

McDougald Scott, alongside other Democratic officials in South Carolina, is strategically aiming to engage and sway these incoming voters towards the Democratic Party fold.

They are emphasizing critical issues such as education, infrastructure, and healthcare, which they argue are being overlooked by the Republican leadership. Additionally, McDougald Scott highlights South Carolina’s restricted access to abortion, an issue she perceives as transcending party affiliations, potentially resonating with a broader spectrum of voters.

Matthew Graham
Matthew Graham
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