In 2004, Bill Bishop started talking about “the big sort,” or the increasing sorting of Americans into like-minded communities politically. This was not just at the state level, but also at the county, town, or even neighborhood level.
This big sort has continued, and even accelerated in a world of Trump and Covid. Urban centers have become solid blue, with the division between the conventional neoliberal left and the hard core progressive left. Rural areas have become largely a sea of red. But geography is protean, not static. Suburbs that we once red are trending purple to blue, and there’s no reason to believe the map will ever reach a point of stasis.
Covid accelerated many of these migration trends. Especially there was an exit out of urban centers, and most especially out of big, coastal metropolises like New York and San Francisco. But even where I live in Indianapolis there was a big reversal. Whereas during the 2010s the central city was gaining population, during Covid it lost it across the board. Conversely, many suburban areas saw strong demand, and Covid seems to have helped bail out, or at least help out, declining suburbs in places like Connecticut and suburban Chicago. At the state level, the California exodus picked up steam. Conversely, places like Florida and Texas boomed.
Albert O. Hirschman’s famous book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty outlines two two choices facing people unhappy with an organization (including churches) or government: voice and exit. To use voice is to complain or seek to reform the system in question. To exit is to leave for another organization or territory.
Migration is a form of exit. When we move, we are voting with our feet to choose a different city, state, neighborhood, or even country.
We often don’t just move, however. We frequently are called to explain to people why we moved. We often tell people, sometimes loudly, why we made the choice to exit.
But today, despite high profile cases of vocal venture capitalists announcing relocations from the Bay Area to Miami and the like, I see that more and more people are not telling people why they moved. Or at least they aren’t telling people the real reasons.
I call this phenomenon “silent exit.”