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New York’s out-migration lost the GOP the governor’s mansion

New York and Florida likely will be the difference for Republican control of the House of Representatives following the 2022 midterms. Strong performance on the top of the ticket by Florida’s Ron DeSantis and New York’s Lee Zeldin pushed a number of fence-sitting congressional races red. No small part of either state’s outcomes was the result of waves of residents packing up and moving from New York to Florida over the past several years. In the Sunshine State, these domestic migration trends added to Republican successes. In the Empire State, they may have been enough for Democrat Kathy Hochul to hold onto the governor’s mansion, despite a rigorous campaign by Republican Zeldin.

In many ways, Zeldin’s 2022 campaign mirrored George Pataki’s stunning 1994 win, knocking off three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo. Zeldin’s strength showed itself in familiar places for the GOP, both in the rural Upstate region and in suburban Long Island. He also marked a major milestone, sharply turning New York City about 15 percent redder than in 2020. Still, when the counting was over, Zeldin lost by 5.8 percent — or roughly 327,000 out of the 5.7 million ballots cast. With the 1994 Republican wave at his back, Pataki won by about the same number of raw votes, or about 3.3 percent. The outflow of Empire Staters over the past decade may have kept Hochul in charge for another four years, while bolstering the smashing victory of Florida’s Gov. DeSantis.

Between New York’s extraordinarily high taxes, crippling business regulations, poor weather, skyrocketing crime in formerly safe areas, and draconian COVID lockdowns, the outflow of residents has picked up significantly in recent years. Since 2010, New York has lost almost 2 million residents, leading all 50 states in exodus figures. Manhattan, in particular, led all counties in the nation in population loss during the pandemic. Census figures since the start of COVID are partial, but Florida Department of Motor Vehicle figures give us at least a partial picture of those coming to Florida from New York. From January to September 2022, nearly 42,000 people switched their driver’s licenses between these two states. 

Earlier figures showed 33,000 New Yorkers moving to Florida in the year following the start of the pandemic. All told, it is likely that more than 100,000 residents swapped Gotham for Miami during COVID. This wave of pandemic movers coincided with a large wave in the years leading up to the virus. Census figures from 2020 showed that Florida gained 326,555 net residents from New York during the previous decade. Does that number look familiar? It is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that many who fled New York’s tax burden, heavy-handed lockdowns, and spiking crime were more often conservative than not. 

Florida has enjoyed major economic and population growth during the past decade — and from 2010 to 2019, 2.36 million people moved there from other states. From 2020 to 2021, another 220,000 moved in. Florida boasts no state income tax, a desirable climate, and was a leader against COVID lockdowns under DeSantis. 

It’s impossible to determine exactly how many former New Yorkers voted for Republicans once they arrived in Florida. However, it’s likely that a majority of these mostly older, disproportionately white movers voted for DeSantis on Nov. 8, bolstering his whopping 19.4 percent victory against former Gov. Charlie Crist. Those who moved to the state prior to the start of the pandemic were twice as likely to register Republican than Democrat. 

Furthermore, DeSantis created the most effective voter registration drive in the 2022 cycle, adding to the Republican gains from among those who were born in or moved to Florida. Republicans now outnumber Democrats for the first time in state history. If a significant majority of New Yorkers who came to Florida during the past decade still lived in their former state, and had been there to vote for Zeldin, the gubernatorial race results may have turned out differently. 

Broadly speaking, steep numbers of voters fleeing states such as New York, Illinois and California have made their former states bluer by hollowing out the conservative populations in these places. New York is finally out of reach for the state’s GOP; the combination of conservative flight from the Empire State, plus the natural death-to-birth ratios in red parts of the state, may be the final straw. No Republican has won a governor’s race there in 20 years, and even with a natural talent such as Zeldin, the party couldn’t quite pull it out this year. 

In less GOP-friendly years, it is likely that New York Democrats will compile electoral triumphs even as their policies run the state into economic stagnation. And all along, Florida will continue its unprecedented economic and demographic growth. If Republicans want a model to emulate, Ron DeSantis and Florida wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is an author whose latest book is “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.

Tags 2022 midterms conservatives Democratic Party George Pataki Lee Zeldin migration New York elections Ron DeSantis

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