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Why Northerners streaming into Southern States?

Honestly, I think these people are finely getting Elvis.

Blue-State Residents Streamed Into South Carolina. Here’s Why It Stayed Ruby Red.

Conservatives who leave Democratic states are often looking for a politically favorable new home

By Eliza Collins, Paul Overberg and Anthony DeBarros, WSJ

Feb. 23, 2024 9:00 am ET

GREER, S.C.—Fed up with pandemic restrictions, Sandy Zal uprooted her family from Schenectady, N.Y., three years ago and moved here because of its Republican tilt. She and her husband named their new company Freedom Window Tinting, a nod to South Carolina’s ethos.

“We knew that we’d have freedom to make choices for our kids and our family that were taken away in New York,” said Zal, 47 years old. On Saturday, she will vote for former President Donald Trump in the South Carolina Republican primary because “he’s definitely for the freedom that we enjoy.”

The Zals are part of a migration wave that has kept South Carolina ruby red despite an influx of newcomers from blue states. A Wall Street Journal analysis of census data found that a third of the state’s new residents between 2017 and 2021 hailed from blue states and a quarter from red ones, according to census data. The remainder came from closely divided states, including nearby Georgia and North Carolina, or are immigrants.

Yet the new arrivals are disproportionately Republican. Estimates from the nonpartisan voter file vendor L2 suggest about 57% of voters who moved to South Carolina during that time are Republicans, while about 36% are Democrats and 7% are independents. That places them roughly in line with recent statewide votes in South Carolina. Current Republican Gov. Henry McMaster took 58% of the vote in 2022, and Trump had a 12-point margin over President Biden in 2020.

Trump is expected to easily beat Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor, in the Saturday primary, according to polling. He is on track to secure the GOP presidential nomination as early as next month, and South Carolina will likely be a Republican stronghold in the general election.

The Palmetto State is a prime example of why a yearslong wave of migration to the South has largely failed to change its partisan tint. Many people who leave blue states are Republicans gravitating toward a more politically favorable new home.

In Florida, for instance, 48% of people who moved there between 2017 and 2021 came from blue states while 29% came from red states, Census figures show. Among those who registered to vote, 44% are Republicans, 25% are Democrats and 28% are nonpartisan, according to L2 data. Texas also has a heavier flow of newcomers from blue states but a greater share who L2 data estimates are Republican.

“People do look for their own cohorts,” said Paul Westcott, L2’s executive vice president. In South Carolina, he said, “People see a lower cost of living, lower taxes, and are looking for that cohort that matches their own. Maybe they’re not thinking about it consciously, but they are finding themselves among other conservatives there.”

The growth of Sunbelt states has been fueled by retirees seeking lower taxes and warmer weather, families searching for a lower cost of living, and business-friendly practices drawing in corporations.

“While they may have gotten the benefits of taxes they paid up north, they certainly want to move to an area, especially after they’ve put their kids through school, in a region of lower taxes, of lower land prices and of more ideologically similar folks,” said Scott Huffmon, director of the polling department at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., referring to retirees.

Terry Lush, 61, and her husband, John Lush, 62, moved to Anderson, S.C., from Buffalo, N.Y., about two years ago in search of milder temperatures. They were able to retire and live comfortably by moving, thanks to what they said was cheaper housing and dramatically lower taxes.

John and Terry Lush, under the gazebo at their home in Anderson, S.C., on Wednesday.

Terry Lush, who previously worked for a major bank, is a longtime Republican who will enthusiastically vote for Trump in Saturday’s primary. John Lush, a retired carpenter, was a Democrat in New York but felt the state’s Democratic leadership was getting too aggressive—he cited environmental restrictions, including a gas stove ban, and higher taxes—and recently registered as a Republican.

“When you’re younger you can afford to be a liberal—now you can’t,” he said. John Lush, who is no fan of Trump and will vote for Haley on Saturday, has enjoyed living under South Carolina’s conservative government. “The state politics are very nice. It’s agreeable,” he said.

The four-county Greenville metro area—where Greer is located—grew 4.2% between 2019 and 2021, faster than South Carolina as a whole, which grew 2.6% during that time.

“It’s almost to the point now where we can’t turn the spigot off,” said Carlos Phillips, CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. Phillips said the combination of major corporations, such as BMW and Michelin, offering jobs and a livable city have helped the area boom. The chamber expects the county’s more than half-a-million people to increase by at least 40% by 2040.

While South Carolina’s sales-tax rates rival those of northern states, its top income-tax rates are often lower, and its property taxes are significantly lower. The median property tax bill in South Carolina — $1,185 in 2022, according to Census data—is about a fifth of the median in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. In New Jersey, more than 90% of homeowners pay at least $3,000 a year in property taxes, while in South Carolina, just 12% do.

Jeffrey Linder, 40, a project manager who lives in Greer, said dreary weather prompted him to leave Washington state several years ago after living there all his life. Liberal leaders’ inability to tackle Seattle’s homelessness problem made him want to live in a place with conservative leadership. He first went to Florida, where he spent two years, before deciding to move to South Carolina.

“In the South, people generally care more and want a good place to live,” he said. Linder is backing Haley in the state’s primary.

Webb Ellinger, 62, works in finance and moved to Greenville three years ago from New York. He was drawn to the outdoor activities and food scene and said politics didn’t influence his decision. Ellinger, who identifies as a Democrat, supports Haley.

He said he voted for an independent candidate for president in 2016 and 2020 and was unhappy with the Democratic government in New York. “Democrats have swung too far to the left for my taste,” he said.

Amanda McDougald Scott, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Party, said that people who moved from higher-tax states discover the downsides of lower levies. “They quickly realize they don’t have all the same services, amenities, nice things that they had in blue states” without the same taxes, she said.

McDougald Scott and other South Carolina Democratic officials are working to target these new voters and persuade them to vote Democratic by focusing on issues like education, infrastructure and healthcare, which she believes the Republicans are neglecting. She said South Carolina’s limited access to abortion—which is banned at six weeks of pregnancy—is also something that crosses party lines.

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