In the high drama of the recent United States presidential election, Washington was a bit player — reliably blue. We’re about as far from being a “swing state” as you can get.
Even so, we may have played a behind-the-scenes role in one of the biggest stories of the 2020 presidential contest: Arizona.
The Grand Canyon State — long a Republican stronghold — flipped from red to blue this year, contributing 11 electoral votes to challenger Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent Donald Trump. In so doing, Biden became the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1996 to win the state.
Biden wasn’t the only Democrat to win in Arizona in 2020. Mark Kelly was elected to the U.S. Senate, beating incumbent Republican Martha McSally. Arizona voters also approved the use of recreational marijuana and passed a new tax on high earners to support education.
Why is Arizona suddenly looking a lot more liberal?
Political analysts have pointed to a variety of factors, from increased Latino and Native American voter turnout in 2020 to the endorsement of Joe Biden by Cindy McCain, widow of former Republican Arizona senator and presidential candidate John McCain.
Changing demographics have also been cited as an influence in a number of news articles — in particular, an influx of priced-out California liberals.
Arizona is one of the nation’s fastest-growing states in recent years, drawing newcomers with its strong economy in the Phoenix area, affordable housing and year-round sunshine. About a quarter-million people relocate there each year from other parts of the U.S. — and no state sends more people to Arizona than California, where the cost-of-living can be prohibitive even for college-educated professionals.
I looked at census data on state-to-state migration and found that since the 2016 election — from 2017 to 2019 — about 150,000 Californians who are eligible to vote (U.S. citizens, age 18 and older) moved to Arizona. While the data doesn’t tell us anything about the political affiliations of the those movers, California is, of course, one of the bluest states.
But guess which other very-blue state ranks No. 2 after California for sending expats into Arizona. That’s right: Washington.
While the experts haven’t given us any of the credit — and to be fair, our numbers pale next to California’s — ex-Washingtonians could have also contributed to Arizona’s flip.
From 2017 to 2019, 43,000 voting-eligible Washingtonians made the move south. While that number can’t compare with California, it’s still surprisingly large.
Washington exports more residents to Arizona than any of its neighboring states — Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. We even rank ahead of Texas, which is much closer to Arizona than Washington and has about four times the population.
Keep in mind that Biden defeated Trump in Arizona by a margin of about 10,500 votes, so those 43,000 ex-Washingtonians certainly could have made a difference.
We don’t know the political affiliation of those Washington movers, and there are, of course, many parts of the Evergreen State that are Republican strongholds. But the data also shows that more than half of the state’s movers to Arizona are from the Democrat-heavy Seattle metropolitan area.
Whether it’s for work, retirement, lower cost of living or just to escape the rain, Arizona is one of the top places that Washingtonians go when they move away. California is the No. 1 choice and then comes Oregon. Arizona ranks No. 3, just behind Oregon.