This year's election map is an optimism map

This year’s presidential electoral map is shaping up to be unusual in a few ways, but I’ve been fascinated what looks to me like a migration gap.

Donald Trump is underperforming the typical Republican candidate in states that are magnets for migration — places like North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, and Texas.

He’s doing unusually well in states where net migration is low or even negative, such as Iowa, Maine, and Michigan.

Partly, this is about negative economic circumstances: States where people don’t want to move to tend to be places where the economy has not been good.

And partly it’s about demographics: Slow-growing states tend to be whiter, and the ones where Trump is doing especially well tend to have a lot of less-educated whites who have historically voted Democratic but are unusually drawn to him.

But could it also be partly because Clinton is more appealing to the sort of person who would want to move somewhere new, while Trump appeals more to people who would prefer to stay somewhere familiar?

This election, much more than most, is a referendum on openness and optimism: Are we scared of the changes happening in our country? Do we believe our best days ahead of us?

Moving is a sign that you believe your own actions can improve your personal circumstances; that America offers opportunities so long as one is willing to seize them. It also signals openness to change: If you moved across the country, you might not be so scared of “taco trucks on every corner.”

Look, for example, at the difference between Maine and New Hampshire. In 2012, Barack Obama won Maine by 15 points and New Hampshire by just 5 points. In this election, the two states look much more similar: FiveThirtyEight is currently projecting a 5-point Clinton win in Maine and a 3-point win in New Hampshire.

Why the difference? There is the demographic answer: Both states are extremely white, but New Hampshire is much more educated and wealthier, so it has more of the sort of voters with whom Clinton has made inroads. Maine has lots of working-class whites for Trump to pick up.

But there is also an answer about migration: As of 2012, 66% of Maine residents were born in Maine, while just 42% of New Hampshire’s residents had been born in New Hampshire. One is a state of movers; the other is not.

One interesting fact in Nate Cohn’s great write-up of the New York Times poll of North Carolina is the huge gap in the presidential candidates’ performance among white voters who were born in North Carolina vs. white voters who moved there.

Clinton leads by 10 points among whites with a college degree who moved to North Carolina. Trump leads by 20 among those born in the state. Among whites without a college degree, Trump leads by 42 points among voters not born in the state, and by 56 points among natives to the state.

Of course, that’s partly because a lot of the transplants come from states where white voters tend to be more Democratic than North Carolina — they move to the south and bring more liberal viewpoints with them. But it’s also consistent with a gap in openness and optimism between transplants and non-transplants.

This seems to me like another effect that should be going on our list of potential drivers of the realignment being seen in this election.

This is an editorial. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.

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