A picture of a donkey and elephant that are half blue and red with stars.

The Case Against the Red-State Exodus

As Trump ascended in the 2016 Republican primary, some U.S. liberals began plotting an exit strategy. Spotify released a “Moving to Canada Playlist” for packing your bags if he won (The Atlantic). Miley Cyrus, Bryan Cranston, and Lena Dunham pledged to leave the U.S. if Trump were elected (Hollywood Reporter). Like most people who threatened to emigrate, they didn’t follow through. But there is evidence that there are more red-state liberals leaving for blue states while conservatives are moving to red ones. With increasingly stark policy differences between Democrat- and Republican-controlled states, moving between states can determine whether we have access to things like reproductive healthcare, responsive education, and gender-affirming care. But we can’t blame red-state residents without the means or desire to move away. Such narratives harm the very people victimized by repressive state laws. 

We should support individuals moving to communities where they can thrive. An interstate move is out of reach for most people. It’s a lot easier to move if you have a vehicle, savings, and a remote job. Lawmakers target minors, who can’t legally decide where they live. With most U.S. residents unable to afford a significant emergency expense (CNBC), the majority of people threatened by reactionary laws couldn’t move if they wanted to. The more-affluent liberals leaving or threatening to leave conservative areas often aren’t those most affected by reactionary laws. 


Support red state organizations supporting LGBTQ+ people like Intransitive, the Iowa Mutual Aid Network, the Kentucky Health Justice NetworkLucie’s PlaceSouthern Fried Queer Pride, and Trans Queer Pueblo.

• Donate to the Collective Power Fund to support abortion access for people in states with restrictive laws. 

If you find yourself judging, consider: what resources are necessary for you to move at the end of next month? What privileges make that decision easier for you? What systems of oppression prevent you from making an easy decision?

That’s why privileged people announcing their plans to leave less-liberal areas as a grand political act comes off as performative, at best. It gets uglier when the idea that liberals leaving red states are virtuous evolves into the notion that remaining in a red state makes you bad. 

In 2017, a sociology professor was fired for saying that Hurricane Harvey, which displaced 30,000 people in Texas and Louisiana, felt like “instant karma” because Texas predominantly elected Republican politicians (CBS News). (The professor, confusingly, himself lived in the red state of Florida.) #FuckKentucky trended on Twitter after Mitch McConnell rejected a 2020 stimulus package. Some users took the opportunity to mock the “hicks” who live in the “armpit of America” (The Atlantic). Some blue-state residents celebrated red-state COVID deaths as payback for COVID denialism (NPRWashington Post).

When painting red-state residents with a broad brush, who exactly are we talking about? Here’s a U.S. map of where Trump won the electoral vote in the 2016 election: 

A map of the 2016 election, where Trump received 306 electoral votes compared to Clinton’s 232. The states that voted for Trump are red, and the states that voted for Clinton are blue. (Business Insider)

Trump-voting states are home to most of the counties with the highest Black populations: 

A map that shows the percentage of the total population that reported their race as Black or African American alone in the 2020 Census by state. The South, consistently of largely Republican states, is overwhelmingly Black as compared to the rest of the U.S. (Census Bureau)

As well as the states with the highest poverty levels: 

A map of the U.S. that highlights the percentage of the population in each state that’s living below the poverty line. The map shows high concentrations of people living below the poverty line in the South and Southwest in largely Republican states. (FactsMaps)

This is despite Trump voters, on average, being wealthier and less likely to be Black. The states that voted for Trump also have some of the worst voter suppression (Brennan Center). Many people don’t vote because of immigration status, criminal history, incarceration, inability to take time off work or find childcare, mistrust in the political system, or dissatisfaction with the candidates. Wishing death or illness upon millions of strangers because of their elected officials is horrifying enough, but millions of those people didn’t even vote for the politicians in question. 

Those of us who live in areas dominated by the Democratic Party also can’t ignore the injustices going on in our own backyards. George Floyd was murdered by the police of a Democratic Mayor serving under a Democratic Governor (ABC News). Municipalities with decades of uninterrupted Democratic governance have the most severe racial violence in the form of gentrification. Transphobia, xenophobia, and anti-Blackness aren’t exclusive products of Texas, Florida, or the GOP. They’re features of every community across the United States. We should take action to fight them no matter where we live. The way to address the significant restrictions of rights in conservative states is to organize and take action to defend those targeted, not smugly punching down at the most directly affected. 


• Some liberal residents of blue states described disasters in conservative states as “karma.” 

• It’s marginalized people in states with reactionary laws who are affected by them. 

• Oppression and bigotry aren’t limited to certain states or communities.

1200 800 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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