This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on July 13, 2015.
From our earliest Colonial origins, Americans have voted with their feet, optimistically seeking greener pastures. Today, instead of homesteading raw land, Americans move for work or retirement.
Making an interstate move is not undertaken lightly. Every year, a little more than 1 in 50 Americans pick up stakes and move across state lines. For a New York couple seeking options for their golden years, snowless, income tax-less Florida looks very attractive. But, a recent college graduate is more likely to have work and paying off student loans on the mind.
In spite of growing federal power, states still have significant leeway to set tax and regulatory policy.
For instance, top-taxing New York took 12.6 percent of income in state and local taxes in 2011 while lowest-taxing Wyoming took 6.9 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. Keeping almost 6 percent more of your income might be an inducement for people to consider moving from New York to Wyoming.
As for regulations, the Fraser Institute in Canada annually publishes its Economic Freedom of North America report, carefully rating each state for its taxing, spending, and regulatory burden. In 2012, Fraser ranked Texas as the freest U.S. state while Maine ranked last.
In many aspects, states are microcosms of the federal government. As such, when looking at those who would be elected President in 2016, it is instructive to see what sort of state they governed or, to a lesser extent, represented in the U.S. Senate or live as a citizen. There are 15 Republicans with enough popular support to register onRealClearPolitics national poll average as well as six Democrats. Together, they hail from 18 states.
So, how do these states stack up when it comes to Americans making the most personal and consequential vote they can make; the vote to move?
Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates net domestic migration between the states. From 2011 to 2013, the most recent year for which an estimate is available,Texas, the state rated tops for economic freedom, also saw the greatest net influx of Americans , about 353,000 people, with the largest share of that, some 76,000, coming from California. New York, ranked near the bottom for economic freedom, experienced the greatest net outflow, losing some 361,000 people, the largest share, about 79,000, decamping to Florida.
While Texas had the highest overall net in-migration, the chart below shows how the 18 states represented by a presidential candidate fared in net domestic migration as a share of their population, with tiny Delaware, ranking 8th in economic freedom, showing the highest share of net domestic migration while New Jersey, ranked 44th in economic freedom, had the largest net outflow.
Net Domestic Migration Among the 18 States Represented by a Presidential Candidate
Of course, migration of Americans between states is only part of the picture. The Land of Opportunity serves as a powerful magnet for immigrants from all over the globe, from the highly educated with capital to the hard working with little more than the shirt on their backs. The bar chart below displays overall immigration as a share of the population, reordering the rankings among the 18 states. New Jersey is the sole state to lose overall population to when considering domestic and foreign migration.
Total Migration (Net Domestic Migration and Foreign Immigration), 2011-13
The map below compares net domestic migration between the 18 states, excluding migration from the other 32, showing eight states as net gainers, led by Texas, and ten states as net losers, including Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
Texas Leads the Pack for Net Domestic Migration Among the 18 States Represented by a Presidential Candidate
As mentioned before, taxes and regulations shape migration, as people naturally seek out the best location to maximize their opportunities.
Net domestic migration and net total migration both show a strong relationship to state and local taxes as a share of income among the 18 states examined, with domestic migration showing the strongest relationship as shown in the scatterplot chart below.
State and Local Taxes Show a Strong Relationship to Net Domestic Migration Among the 18 States Examined
The next scatterplot chart looks at the relationship between migration and economic freedom. As with taxation, both net domestic migration and total migration show a robust link to economic freedom, which, along with taxes, includes the size of government and the regulatory burden as well. In this case, total migration has the strongest link. South Carolina is an interesting outlier in that it ranks 40th for economic freedom, but is a low tax state.
People Generally Migrate to Areas of Economic Freedom
Lastly, this table summarizes each of the 18 states’ most recent Economic Freedom rankings from the Fraser Institute as well as the Tax Foundation’s estimate of the state and local tax burden as it stood in 2011, the last year for which data is available along with the U.S. Census Bureau’s calculation of the state’s overall migration as a share of its population in 2013.
That Americans and those moving here from abroad generally prefer states with lower taxes and less regulations ought not be a surprise, given human nature and enlightened self-interest. Governors and those running for President from states that attract hard-working talent ought to trumpet their states as models that the rest of the nation and the federal government should follow.
Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was a California Assemblyman and is a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Retired Reserve.