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Ideological Migration in Partisan Strongholds: Evidence from a Quantitative Case Study

Torben Lütjen and Robert Matschoß
From the journal The Forum


Geographic sorting of the electorate along partisan lines has received increased attention by scholars following the publication of Bill Bishop’s and Robert Cushing’s The Big Sort (2008). The evidence presented in this paper stems from an original public opinion survey in two Wisconsin landslide counties. We find that the majority among migrants to these partisan strongholds have shared the partisanship of the respective political majority. Using logistic regression analysis, we show that partisanship as well as specific lifestyle preferences mattered in people’s decisions to migrate into these partisan strongholds. We also find that partisanship is a factor in potential out-migration: residential satisfaction is lower among the respective political minorities, and relevant shares of the political minority say they consider moving away for political reasons. Among the members of the minority who consider leaving the county about one third say they do so because they dislike the politics of the people there. Our findings on the two counties, each a prototypical Democratic and Republican stronghold, lend further support to the Big Sort hypothesis.

Corresponding authors: Torben Lütjen and Robert Matschoß, Institut für Deutsches und Internationales Parteienrecht und Parteienforschung (PRuF), Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, e-mail: (Torben Lütjen); (Robert Matschoß)


Research for this paper was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The authors are deeply indebted to Charles Franklin from Marquette University whose advice on drafting the questionnaire and whose vast experience with polling in the state of Wisconsin was most valuable for the project. We also gratefully acknowledge the help of Stephan Schütze in data analysis.

Appendix 1: Question Wording

Former party identification:

Thinking back to the time when you moved to (Dane County/Waukesha County), which party did you identify with back then? Did you think of yourself as a Republican, Democrat or Independent?

  • 1  Republican

  • 2  Democrat

  • 3  Independent

  •    (DO NOT READ)

  • 4  Other/no preference

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

Back then, did you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or to the Democratic Party?

  • 1  Republican

  • 2  Democrat

  •    (DO NOT READ)

  • 3  Neither/just independent (VOL)

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

Back then, would you have called yourself a strong (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT) or a not very strong (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT)?

  • 1  Strong

  • 2  Not very strong

  •    (DO NOT READ)

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

Questions about potential out-migration:

“Do you sometimes think about moving away from (Waukesha County/Dane County)?”

  • 1  Yes

  • 2  No

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

Follow-up: “Is this because you dislike the political views of the people in (Dane County/Waukesha County)?”

  • 1  Yes

  • 2  No

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

“If you had to move to a different county within Wisconsin, which one would you prefer?”

  • (Pre-coded list of Wisconsin counties and cities)

  • 997  City not assignable

  • 998  Don’t know/undecided

  • 999  Refused

“Which county or city within Wisconsin would you rather avoid moving to?”

  • (Pre-coded list of Wisconsin counties and cities)

  • 997  City not assignable

  • 998  Don’t know/undecided

  • 999  Refuse

Question about satisfaction:

“Generally speaking, how satisfied are you with living in (Dane County/Waukesha County)? Are you very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied or very dissatisfied?”

  • 1  Very satisfied

  • 2  Satisfied

  • 3  Dissatisfied

  • 4  Very dissatisfied

  •    (DO NOT READ)

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused

Lifestyle preferences (list was scrambled):

“Many people consider multiple places before choosing where they will live. Thinking back to when you moved to your current residence, what sort of factors affected your choice of neighborhood? For each of the following factors, please tell me whether they were ‘very important,’ ‘somewhat important,’ ‘not too important’ or ‘not important at all’ to you.

The (first/next) factor is (INSERT ITEM). How important is this factor to you?”

  1. Low taxes

  2. Safety

  3. Affordable housing

  4. Availability of locally produced or organic food at nearby grocers

  5. Businesses, such as restaurants, coffee places or movie theatres that are within walking distance

  6. A local church near the neighborhood

  7. Not having to use the car all the time

  8. A neighborhood where people share your political views

  9. Good public infrastructure, such as good public transportation, bike paths, and public libraries

  10. All shopping facilities are easily accessible by car

  11. Living in a neighborhood where people display their patriotism, for example by putting up flags on national holidays

Responses for each factor:

  • 1  Very important

  • 2  Somewhat important

  • 3  Not too important

  • 4  Not important at all

  •    (DO NOT READ)

  • 8  Don’t know

  • 9  Refused.

Appendix 2: Additional Regression Tables

Logistic Regression “Very Satisfied” in Dane and Waukesha Counties

Dane CountyWaukesha County
Coefficient (standard error in parentheses)Prob.Log OddsCoefficient (standard error in parentheses)Prob.Log Odds
Party id:
Independent0.095 (0.345)0.7821.100–0.081 (0.314)0.7960.922
Democrat1.289 (0.234)0.0003.631–0.996 (0.224)0.0000.369
Sex: male–0.592 (0.189)0.0020.553–0.299 (0.204)0.1420.741
 18–29 years0.008 (0.396)0.9841.008–1.306 (0.506)0.0100.271
 30–44 years–0.172 (0.270)0.5240.842–0.939 (0.316)0.0030.391
 45–59 years (contrast: 60+ years)–0.459 (0.239)0.0550.632–0.854 (0.263)0.0010.426
 Elementary/some HS–0.300 (0.591)0.6120.7410.573 (0.598)0.3381.773
 Finished HS–0.778 (0.318)0.0150.4590.578 (0.322)0.0731.783
 Some college–0.664 (0.294)0.0240.5150.342 (0.322)0.2891.407
 College degree (2 or 4 year)–0.456 (0.231)0.0490.6340.195 (0.261)0.4551.215
 (contrast: Graduate work+)
Marital status
(contrast: Married)
 Widowed–0.169 (0.353)0.6310.844–0.025 (0.365)0.9450.975
 Divorced/Separated–0.078 (0.328)0.8110.925–0.192 (0.312)0.5390.826
 Never married–0.303 (0.279)–0.188 (0.366)0.6070.828
 Race: Non-White–0.958 (0.364)0.0090.384–0.314 (0.401)0.4340.731
 More than once a week0.207 (0.486)0.6701.2301.385 (0.555)0.0133.995
 Once a weak0.154 (0.333)0.6431.1670.902 (0.393)0.0222.465
 Once or twice a month–0.368 (0.365)0.3130.6920.665 (0.419)0.1131.945
 A few times a years–0.397 (0.336)0.2370.6720.307 (0.402)0.4451.359
 Seldom (contrast: Never)–0.277 (0.314)0.3780.7580.753 (0.415)0.0702.124
Rel. Confession:
(Contrast: Protestant)
 Roman Catholic–0.140 (0.242)0.5630.870–0.352 (0.246)0.1520.704
 Other Christian0.193 (0.301)0.5231.212–0.232 (0.321)0.4680.793
 Non-Christian Religion–0.061 (0.383)0.8730.9410.151 (0.465)0.7461.162
 No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic0.418 (0.324)0.1961.5200.233 (0.423)0.5821.262
<10 k–0.724 (0.564)0.1990.485–1.151 (0.740)0.1200.316
 10 to under 20 k–0.350 (0.515)0.4970.705–1.473 (0.643)0.0220.229
 20 to under 30 k–0.614 (0.456)0.1790.541–1.277 (0.486)0.0090.279
 30 to under 40 k–0.407 (0.456)0.3710.665–1.338 (0.462)0.0040.262
 40 to under 50 k–0.095 (0.418)0.8210.910–0.942 (0.435)0.0300.390
 50 to under 75 k–0.467 (0.359)0.1940.627–1.024 (0.381)0.0070.359
 75 to under 100 k0.161 (0.367)0.6611.175–0.411 (0.380)0.2790.663
 100 to under 150 k–0.284 (0.369)0.4420.753–0.540 (0.380)0.1550.583
 (contrast: ≥150 k)
Constant0.558 (0.490)0.2551.7471.711 (0.534)0.0015.533
Nagelkerke’s R20.2220.180
% Correctly Predicted66.370.4
Number of Cases609554

Dependent Variable based on the question “Generally speaking, how satisfied are you with living in (Dane County/Waukesha County)? Are you very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied or very dissatisfied? Recoded as Very satisfied as “1”; the other three as “0.”

Logistic Regression: Relocation Because of Politics

Dane CountyWaukesha County
Coefficient (standard error in parentheses)Prob.Log OddsCoefficient (standard error in parentheses)Prob.Log Odds
Party id
 Republican2.155 (0.504)0.0008.632contrast
 Independent1.450 (0.627)0.0214.262–0.611 (0.894)0.4940.543
 Democratcontrast1.306 (0.506)0.0103.690
 Sex: male0.295 (0.446)0.5081.3430.380 (0.490)0.4381.462
 18–29 years–1.210 (0.913)0.1850.2980.049 (0.934)0.9581.051
 30–44 years–0.570 (0.599)0.3420.5660.108 (0.743)0.8851.114
 45–59 years0.129 (0.518)0.8031.1380.472 (0.589)0.4231.603
 (contrast: 60+ years)
 High school or less1.144 (0.651)0.0793.1400.246 (0.661)0.7101.279
 Some college through college degree–0.422 (0.535)0.4300.656–1.625 (0.633)0.0100.197
 (contrast: Graduate work+)
Marital status:
 Not married (incl. separated)0.098 (0.552)0.8591.1030.404 (0.551)0.4631.498
 Race: Non-White0.924 (0.584)0.1142.519–1.318 (1.118)0.2390.268
 ≤50 k0.226 (0.690)0.7431.2540.585 (0.751)0.4361.794
 50 to under 100 k–0.663 (0.597)0.2660.5150.765 (0.651)0.2402.150
 (contrast: 100 k or more)
Constant–3.023 (0.703)0.0000.049–2.546 (0.827)0.0020.078
Nagelkerke’s R20.2860.268
% Correctly Predicted86.884.2
Number of Cases250171

Dependent Variable based on the question “Is this because you dislike the political views of the people in (Dane County/Waukesha County)?


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Published Online: 2015-8-22
Published in Print: 2015-7-1

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