• UPDATE: The original employee numbers from the San Francisco Chronicle that I used to make the calculations below have since been significantly revised downward.  As Geekwire reports, the numbers I cited were for Amazon company-wide, not just Seattle. In fact, Amazon employees 40,000 in Washington state, not the 340,000 I cited below.  While this changes the single impact of Amazon’s move, my original post was perhaps conservative in underestimating the overall demographic impact, as Amazon’s move will attract other tech companies to the region, plus spouses. So the original point of the article stands, although the impact of Amazon’s move alone will not be as significant as I originally calculated.

      ~ Ethan

      Amazon warehouse (Photo - Álvaro Ibáñez).

      Amazon warehouse (Photo – Álvaro Ibáñez).

      Amazon.com just announced that its seeking a city for its second headquarters, outside of Seattle.  Could an influx of Democratic-voting tech workers to a city in a red state be enough to turn that state blue?

      By Ethan Elkind

      I ran through the list of reported city contenders and their respective state vote tallies below.  My goal was to find out which city, if chosen, would have the greatest effect on the state’s (and therefore the nation’s) presidential politics.

      The bottom line, as you’ll see below: Democrats should be rooting for Amazon to move to Tucson, Pittsburgh, or Detroit, which would flip those states from red to blue (or in the case of Pennsylvania and Michigan, back to blue).

      But first: the criteria for Amazon and the potential job numbers.  According to the Chicago Tribune:

      Whichever city wins Amazon’s “HQ2” will host up to 50,000 workers with salaries that could reach $100,000 annually.

      The company said it’s aiming for a metropolitan area of at least 1 million residents, opening up, theoretically, a few dozen cities in the U.S., from New York to Tucson, Ariz., and a handful more in Canada. It’s unclear whether Amazon would consider a bid from a Mexican city.

      But the employment — and therefore the voter — numbers could be far bigger than that. As the SF Chronicle reports:

      Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company plans to make the second headquarters — dubbed HQ2 — “a full equal” to its Seattle home base [which employs more than 340,000 people].

      And any new Amazon home would also bring additional tech workers from other companies that would locate nearby to do business with Amazon. In short, the headquarter decision could result in a major influx of educated tech workers who could greatly affect the state’s voting results, given that tech workers vote Democrat by potentially large margins (as Nate Silver documented in 2012).  The key would be for Amazon to locate in a city that could grow just enough relative to the number of Republican-leaning rural residents.

      So for this exercise, I assumed that the Amazon move would eventually result in 300,000 tech workers moving in (less than Seattle’s current headquarter count and including potential workers from other tech companies).  I also assumed their voting rate would be 80%-20% Democrat vs. Republican, which would roughly track the financial contributions from this sector, as a proxy for their voting habits.

      That means the Amazon move could bring 240,000 new Democratic voters to the state, along with 60,000 new Republican voters.  The net gain would be 180,00 new votes for the Democrats.

      Could that be enough to turn a state from red to blue?

      We should first note that in 2016, Trump beat Clinton by 306 to 232 electoral votes, leaving a gap of 74 electoral votes for Democrats to regain.  No single state switch will reverse that gap.  But a switch in one sizeable state could alter the presidential calculations going forward.  Demography is destiny.

      Here are the reported city candidates and the potential impact of an Amazon move on their state election results, based on the 2016 election (I left out the blue state candidate cities, because a move there would simply improve existing Democratic majorities):

      Amazon Books at Washington Square, Oregon (Photo - Steve Morgan).

      Amazon Books at Washington Square, Oregon (Photo – Steve Morgan).

      FLIPPING TO BLUE

      Tucson, Arizona
      The state has 11 electoral college votes.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 1.25M votes
      Clinton 1.16M votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 90,000 more votes to flip the state.
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would be enough to flip the state to blue, leaving 90,000 extra Democratic votes.

      Detroit, Michigan
      The state has 16 electoral college votes
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 2.279M votes
      Clinton 2.268M votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 11,000 more votes to flip the state
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would be more than enough to flip the state to blue, leaving a cushion of 169,000 extra Democratic votes.

      Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
      The state has 20 electoral college votes.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 2.970M votes
      Clinton 2.926M votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 45,000 more votes to flip the state
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would be more than enough to flip the state to blue.  It would leave a cushion of 135,000 extra Democratic votes.

      CUTTING THE REPUBLICAN LEAD

      Kansas City, Missouri
      The state has 10 electoral college votes.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 1.594M votes
      Clinton 1.071M votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 520,000 more votes to flip the state.
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would not be enough to flip the state to blue.  It would cut the Republican lead by about one-third though.

      Nashville, Tennessee
      The state has 11 electoral college votes at stake.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 1.5M votes
      Clinton 870K votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 650,000 more votes to flip the state
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would not be enough to flip the state, but it could cut the lead for Republicans by about a quarter.

      Austin, Texas
      The state has 38 electoral college votes.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 4.685M votes
      Clinton 3.878M votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 810,000 more votes to flip the state
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would not be enough to flip the state to blue.  It would cut the lead by about one-fifth though.

      Bonus Analysis: Boise, Idaho
      Note: this city does not fit Amazon’s reported criteria for a move, but the city has the makings of a future tech hub, given the low-cost of living and proximity to a lot of outdoor recreation.
      Idaho otherwise has 4 electoral college votes.
      2016 presidential election results:
      Trump 409K votes
      Clinton 190K votes
      Democrats therefore need approximately 220,000 more votes to flip the state.
      Verdict: The 180,000 new votes from an Amazon move would not be enough, by just 40,000 extra votes, to flip the state to blue.  But it would make a significant difference in Idaho politics.

      Bottom line

      If Amazon moved to Tucson, Pittsburgh, or Detroit, it could potentially flip those states to blue in 2020. A Boise move would come close to flipping the state, falling short by 40,000 votes. And a move to Kansas City, Nashville or Austin would chip away at Republican voter leads in those states by the following: one-third in Missouri, one-quarter in Tennessee, and one-fifth in Texas.

      So for those who care about politics, Amazon’s move could have a significant effect on the 2020 election (not to mention House and Senate races, which would need to be covered in a different post).

      Now that’s the kind of prime delivery that would make Democrats happy.

       

      Ethan Elkind directs the climate program at UC Berkeley Law, with a joint appointment at UCLA Law. His book “Railtown” was published by the University of California Press in 2014.


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      Comments

      1. KP says:

        You said that no single flip would turn the election around, but if I’ve got this right I think Texas (with it’s 38 votes) could do it. Democrats don’t need to bridge the entire 74 vote gap because every additional blue vote is one less red. If Texas went blue, republican electoral votes would move to 268 (306-38) while the democrats would move to 270 (232+38).

        Another wrinkle to consider: Where are these 240k blue voters going to come from? If they come from a bunch of red states – no impact. However, if they come from blue states then it could get more interesting. CA could handle losing 240k blue votes but what about CO, NV, NM, etc?

        • Staff says:

          Please note the writer had to modify his original post, because the article he based his numbers on later corrected their numbers, requiring the change. Basically, it meant fewer workers moving to the new headquarters, so the impact is less than he calculated. But the concept remains the same.

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