Georgia on My Mind

Did the Peach Tree State's push to become "Hollywood South" help tip it to Biden?

Moscow girls made the Beatles sing and shout, and could yet do the same for Trump if he flees the US as he mused before the election. But for now, Georgia is on his mind, and politicos’ too, though for different reasons: Trump is obsessed with bullying the Peach Tree State’s Secretary of State into “finding” 11,780 votes, while the Republican and Democratic parties are busy beseeching their bases to vote in today’s dual Georgia Senate runoffs, which will determine control of the chamber and whether an obstructionist Mitch McConnell will continue to cast his baleful gaze on the nation from a leadership position.

As we all wait on tenterhooks for news tonight from Atlanta and beyond, now might be a good time to examine a question that’s apparently gone (UPDATE: almost) unasked: did the decade-plus successful effort by Republican governors to turn Georgia into an entertainment production center inadvertently help tip the state to Biden?

It’s not an absurd query. Certainly, as Trump whined on his Saturday afternoon call to Georgia officials, Biden’s 11,779 vote margin was not a large one. “I only need 11,000 votes,” moaned the President, never one to stand on ceremony or stick to precise figures. “Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

Could some of Biden’s margin have come from entertainment expats leaving California in pursuit of production jobs that migrated to Georgia starting with a 2008 tax incentive (read, giveaway) for movie and TV production?

It’s possible. Certainly a Golden State exodus has been Democratizing several other states. It’s been noted for at least the last seven years that California’s high cost of living and its other travails have been driving an out-migration that’s turning key western states politically blue. Nevada, Arizona and even Colorado owe their increasingly Democratic leanings to Calimmigrants.

But what do the numbers say about Georgia, a state that’s further afield? I took a look at Census Bureau interstate migration data and calculated the cumulative net California-to-Georgia exodus from 2009 onwards. As of 2019, almost 35,000 Californians had moved to Georgia since 2009, net of Georgians who had moved to California. That’s three times Biden’s margin of victory — seemingly more than enough to suggest that entertainment migration helped tip the state, even though obviously not all of the 35,000 were entertainment folk, or Democrats, for that matter.

And there’s this: when we plot the cumulative figures year by year against the annual in-state entertainment production spend using official Georgia figures, the curves are eerily correlated:

What does this mean? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps that the Georgia production community, including California migrants, has grown as the in-state production spend increased.

There’s reason for caution, though. A look at the year-by-year net migration figures, including prior to 2009, reveals caveats and anomalies:

This data is surprising, for two reasons: First, there’s the practically inexplicable drop to almost zero net migration in 2010. The recession is not an obvious explanation for this, as there was movement: the California to Georgia figure was 8,909 (about 50 percent of the previous year’s) and the Georgia to California figure was 8,820 (a 20 percent drop from the previous year).

Second, there’s the fact that annual net migration to Georgia in each of 2005-2009 was actually greater than in each of the subsequent years. What drove that earlier migration, and why didn’t those factors aggregate with entertainment migration to produce even larger outflows after 2008?

Those are probably good questions for a master’s thesis, meaning that there’s really no easy answer. (UPDATE: Census Bureau county-to-county data might shed some additional light.) And, credit where due: the in-state efforts by Stacey Abrams and others to register and turn out Black voters and other progressives were obviously the major factor in eking out a victory for Biden in Georgia. But as we await the results today of another Peach Tree nail biter, and notwithstanding the ambiguous data, it remains possible that Republican efforts to nab California’s bacon played a role as well. Hooray for Hollywood South!