“Can you explain this migration, out of California and going to red states?” moderator Sean Hannity asked California governor Gavin Newsom during his recent debate with Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Newsom confidently replied, “You mean the last two years, more Floridians going to California than Californians going to Florida? By the way, that’s going to be fun to fact-check.”

Newsom twice repeated his claim, stating the third time, “We just established more Floridians coming to California in the last two years than the other way around.” DeSantis replied, “We didn’t establish it. You just asserted it.” Newsom responded, “It’s a fact.”

Newsom’s claim is nowhere near the truth. Rather, it’s a prime example of the use and abuse of statistics, aided and abetted by the mainstream media.

Based on data from the Census Bureau, in the two most recent years for which figures are available (2020–2022), 66 percent more people moved from California to Florida than the other way around. Over that span, 88,165 California residents moved to Florida, while 53,249 Florida residents moved to California—a net gain for Florida of about 35,000 Californians.

Statistics reflecting all interstate migration (not just between the Sunshine State and the Golden State) yield similar results. Over the two-year span from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2022, again based on data from the Census Bureau, Florida added 563,000 residents in net domestic migration (the number of people who moved to a given state from other states, minus the number who moved the other direction). That’s more than the population of Miami. Over that same span, California lost 802,000 residents in net domestic migration—almost equal to the population of San Francisco.

Yet, “fact-checkers” were quick to come to Newsom’s defense. The New York Times called DeSantis’s statement that “so many people were leaving” California “misleading.” The Times didn’t really explain why, other than to say, apropos of nothing, that the number of people who moved from California to Florida in one year’s time is “not even enough Californians to fill the Gainesville stadium where the Florida Gators play.” (Two years’ worth of such migration, however, would fill that massive stadium.) The Times had nothing to say about Newsom’s assertion that more people moved from Florida to California than vice versa.

Other “fact-checkers” did have something to say about it—in Newsom’s favor. PolitiFact opined, “If measuring per capita, Newsom is right that more Floridians have moved to California than the other way around in the last two years,” though “the difference is so small that experts have questioned whether it is meaningful.” PolitiFact added, “In raw numbers, more Californians have moved to Florida than the other way around. But this does not account for California’s higher population.”

First off, Newsom didn’t say “per capita.” He simply said—and twice repeated—that “more” people had moved to California from Florida than vice versa, which is patently false. Second, PolitiFact’s statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics. There’s no need to “account for” California’s higher population in this comparison. When measuring whether more people went one way or the other, no per-capita adjustment is necessary or appropriate.

The Washington Post followed suit (while noting that this isn’t the first time Newsom has made this claim): “The missing words here are ‘per capita,’ a phrase that Newsom usually slips in. California, of course, has a much higher population than Florida, so raw numbers can be deceiving.” Actually, there’s nothing deceiving about the raw numbers, while the per-capita adjustment is inappropriate and therefore misleading. To employ an analogy: you’re measuring which way the water is flowing between two bodies of water, not how big the respective bodies of water are.

People have been fleeing California in droves, yet Newsom’s per-capita adjustments would suggest that the state is bursting at the seams. From 2021 to 2022 (the most recent year available), 74,157 California residents moved to neighboring Arizona, while only 27,412 Arizona residents moved to California. But according to Newsom’s per-capita adjustment, about twice as many people moved from Arizona to California as the other way around. Over that same period, 48,836 people moved from California to Nevada, versus just 22,183 who left the Silver State for the Golden State. By Newsom’s math, however, people were more than five times as likely to move from Nevada to California as vice versa. A total of 36,429 people moved north from California to Oregon, while only 23,792 moved south from Oregon to California—yet according to Newsom’s mode of comparison, people were six times as likely to leave the Beaver State for the Golden State as to journey in the other direction.

It gets worse. In the most recent year’s statistics, 26,887 people moved from California to Idaho, while only 5,567 moved from Idaho to California—more than a four-to-one-ratio. By Newsom’s math, however, it flips around, yielding more than a four-to-one ratio in the opposite direction. Meantime, 1,558 people moved from California to Wyoming, versus 1,083 who moved from Wyoming to California. By Newsom’s computations, this means that people were almost 50 times as likely to move from the Cowboy State to the Golden State as in the other direction. Indeed, 10,000 people could have moved between those two states, with 9,800 of them exiting California in favor of Wyoming and just 200 heading the other way, and by Newsom’s per-capita calculations, those fleeing California would be outnumbered by those saying, “California, here we come!”

Aside from California, 21 states on the U.S. mainland lie west of the Mississippi River. From 2021 to 2022, California saw a net outflow of residents to 20 of those 21 states; only Nebraska lost more residents to California than it gained. By Newsom’s math, however, this equation flips around entirely. Applying his per-capita adjustment, California had a net inflow from 20 of those 21 states—all but Texas.

Newsom, in short, is using phony statistics to try to mask the exodus from California to Florida and other states. In truth, from 2021 to 2022, Florida received more transplants from California than from any other state except New York (though New Jersey, Texas, and Georgia were within the margin of error), while California exported more people to far-off Florida than to any other state except for Arizona and Texas (with Nevada and Washington falling within the margin of error).

In all, more U.S. residents moved to Florida than to any other state over the two-year span from 2020 to 2022, while more U.S. residents moved away from California than from any other state. In terms of percentages, Florida’s population rose more than all but three other states, while California’s shrunk more than all but one other state (New York). In all, the bottom four states on the list of percentage of population gained or lost through net domestic migration were all left-leaning, Covid-mandate-loving states: New York, California, Illinois, and Hawaii. The top four states were all right-leaning, freedom-loving states: Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, and Florida.

Gavin Newsom can try to spin those numbers any way he likes, but Americans know where they’re moving to.

Photo by John Nacion/Getty Images


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