Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Voter registration data shows California Republicans – not liberals – are flocking to Idaho

By Clark Corbin Idaho Capital Sun

With almost 30,000 California expatriates leading the charge, the number of Republican voters moving from other states to Idaho dwarfs the number of Democrats moving from other states.

A new data visualization report released Wednesday morning by the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office maps the party affiliation of 118,702 current Idaho voters who moved here from other states.

The data comes from Idaho voter records, specifically a line on the Idaho voter registration form that asks voters to list the address where they were previously registered, said Gabe Osterhout, a data visualization specialist for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office who created the report.

The map that Osterhout generated using registration data for voters who moved from other states to Idaho resembles something of a Republican fever dream – a red wave in 48 of 49 states.

Regardless of where voters are coming from and how liberal that state is, Republican voters greatly outnumber Democratic voters moving here from every state except Vermont, the data show.

On the map, Vermont is shaded gray to reflect that 60 unaffiliated voters and 51 Democrats from Vermont outnumber the 50 Republican voters who moved from Vermont to Idaho.

Everywhere else is a sea of red, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats and unaffiliated voters moving to Idaho from every state.

According to the data, among all Idaho voters who moved here from out of state:

• 77,136, or 65% are registered Republicans.

• 24,906, or 21% are unaffiliated.

• 14,711, or 12% are registered Democrats.

• 1,949, or 2% are a member of a third party, such as the Constitution Party or Libertarian Party.

Almost 30,000 Republicans have moved to Idaho from California

The data appears to confirm one myth and bust another.

First – at least among registered voters – ex-Californians are leading the surge of people moving from other states to Idaho, and it isn’t even close.

The report shows that 39,558 Idaho voters moved here from California and 29,516 of those voters, or 75%, are Republicans. That compares to only 3,940 California voters who moved here and registered as Democrats.

There are 11,047 ex-California voters registered as Republicans in Ada County alone.

The number of ex-Californians who are now registered Idaho voters is almost twice the number of registered voters that came from Washington, the state that sent the second-most voters to Idaho. The report shows that 62% of the 20,199 Washington voters who moved to Idaho are Republicans.

But that new voter registration data refutes a common myth passed around Idaho that liberals are fueling the out-of-state growth and threaten to turn Idaho blue or purple. In fact, the data shows that the percentage of Republican voters coming from other states is greater than the percentage of Republicans who already live in Idaho.

Overall, 66% of the voters moving from all other states to Idaho registered as Republicans. That compares to just 58% of Idaho voters who are registered as Republicans.

“There is a lot of misinformation floating around, especially about people coming from California and what their political views are,” Osterhout said in an interview Monday. “I went in expecting more red than blue, but I wasn’t sure how much, and I’ve been fascinated to see just how red it is.”

The voter registration data visualization map Osterhout created allows people to click around through different states on the map and find out which cities voters are coming from and which Idaho counties they are moving to. For instance, more Californians moved to Ada County than anywhere else in Idaho. The data reports that 11,047 ex-Californians moved to Ada County and registered as Republicans, versus 1,976 ex-Californians who moved to Ada County and registered as Democrats.

It’s no surprise that conservative voters from progressive states are moving to Idaho. Several real estate agents are marketing Idaho homes to conservatives living in heavily populated, progressive states like California, Washington and Oregon, the Associated Press reported in 2022.

Jaclyn Kettler, a Boise State University political scientist who researches and teaches about government and elections, said the data is helpful for taking stock of how Idaho’s rapid growth has affected the state.

Fueled by people moving from other states, Idaho was the second-fastest growing state in the country in 2022 and one of the fastest growing states in the county between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kettler said Osterhout’s findings are in line with survey data and other reports she has seen.

“It is really important to understand this growth and its effect on state politics,” Kettler said. “Any additional data source we can gain is helpful to better explore and understand that, especially in states where we don’t have as much public opinion or survey data as larger states.”

Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane presented the voter registration data Wednesday at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference in downtown Boise.

In an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun, McGrane said he hopes sharing the report will lead to increased voter participation in Idaho elections, particularly primary elections.

“One of the big things is this uses data to show what is actually happening,” McGrane said. “The other part is it really shows how significant participation in our primary elections is.”

The Idaho Legislature passed a closed primary law in 2011 that means voters cannot participate in a political party’s primary election unless voters are affiliated with that political party. The closed primary law makes it so that primary elections are closed unless a political party specifically notifies the Secretary of State’s Office that it wants to open its primary election to other voters. During the most recent primary election in 2022, only the Idaho Democratic party opened its primary election to all voters. The Republican, Libertarian and Constitution Party primary elections were all closed, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office previously told the Sun.

Because of Republican majorities and decades of political dominance by the GOP, many of the state’s elections are effectively decided during the closed Republican primary elections, not the general elections.

A coalition of groups, including Reclaim Idaho and Mormon Women for Ethical Government, is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative seeking to end Idaho’s closed primary elections. They hope to replace it with a top-four primary election that is open to all candidates and all voters and a ranked-choice system for the general election, where voters pick their favorite candidate and can rank the remaining three candidates on their ballot in order of preference.

What does Idaho voter registration data tell us?

The voter registration data from the Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t tell the full story of Idaho’s growth. First, it only deals with adults who are registered voters – not the state’s entire population. Second, the data doesn’t address voters who moved out of Idaho to another state. Depending on how they fill out their voter registration card, the data may not reflect voters who moved from another state to Idaho and then moved again to a different county in Idaho. For that reason, the number of out-of-state voters may actually be higher than what is included in the report.

The data is based on the files from all current registered voters in Idaho, so it doesn’t include a timing element to show when voters moved to Idaho. The data is current as of Monday and dates back to 2004, following Congress’ passage of the Help America Vote Act, which requires states to establish statewide voter registration systems.

Prior to 2004, voter registration in Idaho was handled at the county level, McGrane and Osterhout said.

U.S. Census Bureau data and Department of Motor Vehicle data and public policy surveys also provide additional context to understanding Idaho’s rapid growth that isn’t included in the voter registration data, Osterhout and Kettler said.

“I went in expecting more red than blue, but I wasn’t sure how much, and I’ve been fascinated to see just how red it is.” Gabe Osterhout Data visualization specialist for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, report’s author