Words & Deeds

Yo, red stater: Worried Idaho could turn blue? Stop blaming Californians moving here.

Is Idaho turning into a blue state?

By analyzing Idaho party registration data in 2018, the Idaho Statesman found the most conservative and liberal cities and towns in Idaho.
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By analyzing Idaho party registration data in 2018, the Idaho Statesman found the most conservative and liberal cities and towns in Idaho.

Grouchy about growth, my red-state friend?

Optimistic about the future, “Blue Girl, Red State” bumper sticker fan?

Here’s a word of caution. If you’re going to let Idaho arrows fly about California transplants, stop aiming at the wrong target.

Yes, our new neighbors are all-too-easy marks for native grumbling. Driving up the price of housing with their equity-rich bank accounts. Jam-packing the parking lot at busy Bogus Basin. Inflicting West Coast tastes upon Boise’s restaurant scene — and then know-it-all Yelping about it.

Maybe you resent Idaho’s crowd-caused mutation. Maybe you embrace it.

Either way, there’s one thing California transplants should not get blame or credit for: Being Democrats — any more than Idahoans already are.

So please drop that politicized battle cry.

After I tweeted a recent column about a “controversial” T-shirt combining the states of Idaho and California into “Idafornia,” the hand-wringing responses on social media were par for the misleading course.

“What happens when Californians flee their failed state but bring their failed political ideology with them?” a Twitter user from Portland cried. “... Won’t be long b4 Idaho turns from red to purple, then blue.”

First off, Boise rules, Portland drools.

Second, studies in Idaho contradict claims that Californians make the Gem State more liberal.

“Our data suggests that is not what’s happening,” says Jeffrey Lyons, assistant professor of political science at Boise State University. “Worries that Californians are moving here and are going to make this a Democratic place are probably overstated.”

Sorry to bust out social science. Attempted objectivity. But Lyons does, you know, actual research. His findings are more compelling to me than an Obama bumper sticker someone saw on a Toyota Prius parked at Whole Foods.

In 2017, Boise State conducted an Idaho Public Policy Survey of about 1,000 random residents. Among the 60 or so questions? Where a person was from, and their political affiliation.

Lyons wrote a fascinating report about Idaho newcomers. It was published by the School of Public Service’s Blue Review. And before you conspiracy theorists go berserk, “Blue Review” refers to Bronco Blue, not any political slant.

Lyons’ conclusion: People moving here — including Californians — have roughly the same ideological background as Idahoans. Also interesting? The median age of California movers in the survey was slightly higher than the median age of the sample as a whole.

“Rather than challenging the dominant political identity in the state,” he wrote, “movers to Idaho appear to be reinforcing it, and those hailing from California are no exception.”

Is your head exploding in disbelief? Don’t feel bad. Lyons’ noggin probably throbbed a little after running all those numbers, too.

In fact, something in the back of his mind bothered him afterward, he admits.

“My fear was that people would hear, ‘Oh, people moving to Idaho are generally Republican.’ And then people here in the Treasure Valley would say, ‘Oh, that means people moving to the Treasure Valley are generally Republican.’ ”

What if that wasn’t true? What if Treasure Valley transplants leaned more Democrat than transplants statewide? What if the Boise area soon would be overrun by Nancy Pelosi-worshippin’ Golden State snowflakes?

The School of Public Policy did another survey in October 2018 — of about 1,000 random residents exclusively in the Treasure Valley.

“Of that 1,000, 158 told us they moved here from California,” Lyons says. Of those, 26 percent had relocated to the Treasure Valley in the past decade.

The findings are strikingly similar.

“People who are moving to the Treasure Valley from outside the Treasure Valley appear to be basically as Republican as people who have lived here their entire lives,” Lyons says.

You don’t say.

“Of the people who moved to the Treasure Valley and told us they came from California, about 33 percent identified as Democrats, about 11 percent identified as independents, and the remainder, about 56 percent, identify as Republican.”

How can this be?

Simple. California flight doesn’t necessarily reflect the state’s political leanings.

“A fair number of those folks are likely Republicans who may not agree with the state politics,” Lyons says. “So they may be looking to find a place that aligns with their views better. I think you see that especially when people hit retirement age and are no longer tied to California like they used to be. So they’re saying, ‘We’re going to leave.’ ”

Welcome to Meridian. Or Eagle. Or Nampa.

Or Boise. Although “the city of Boise does lean Democratic,” Lyons says. “There’s no doubt about that.”

“Boise has grown,” he adds. “But Meridian has really grown. A lot of this growth has been taking place in the more Republican areas, like Meridian. Out in Canyon County — Nampa, Caldwell — those are some of the fastest-growing parts of the Treasure Valley, and those tend to be more Republican places.”

Californians, it seems, might actually help solidify conservative pockets in the Valley.

Could Idaho turn purple — someday? It’s possible. The population could get younger and less conservative. Or the entire nation could shift politically.

But here and now, our California pals do not appear to be transforming Idaho’s political makeup in any significant way — at least based on the data we have.

“Idaho could change,” Lyons says. “But if Idaho changes, you probably shouldn’t be blaming the Californians. It’s probably something else.”

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Michael Deeds is a columnist and entertainment writer at the Idaho Statesman, where he chronicles the Boise good life with reporting and opinion. Deeds invaded the newsroom as an intern in 1991.

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