Would You Leave The United States?

by David Brady, Brett Parker
Friday, March 4, 2022
Image credit: 
istock

Since the George W. Bush administration, Gallup in its World Poll has asked this question: “Ideally, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move PERMANENTLY to another country, or would you prefer to continue living in this country?” During the Bush and Obama administrations the number of Americans responding positively was right around 10 percent (11 for Bush and 10 for Obama). During the Trump presidency that number (2017) jumped to 16 percent. In comparison (2017), the percentages for Latin America were 27 percent while in European Union countries it was 21 percent with Australia and New Zealand below 10 percent.

In 2019, Gallup acknowledged this increase and reported that this new interest in emigration was concentrated primarily among women under thirty (40 percent want to leave) and those who disapproved of Trump (22 percent, compared to 7 percent of Trump’s supporters). The Gallup article summarized this trend by pointing out that the rise in leavers “has come among groups that typically lean Democratic and that have disapproved of Trump’s job performance so far in his presidency: women, young Americans, and people in lower-income groups.” The World Poll does not ask about respondents’ political leanings, depriving us of the opportunity to determine how ideology rates as a factor in the desire to emigrate.

Fortunately, the first YouGov poll of 2022 also asked a series of questions about emigration. The first question was: “Have you ever thought about leaving the US and moving permanently to a foreign country?” Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they had considered leaving, with 62 percent saying they had not. Those who said they had considered leaving permanently were decidedly more liberal. Over two-thirds of those describing themselves as very liberal answered yes, as did slightly over one-half of those identifying as liberal. Among self-described moderates, only 39 percent indicated that they had ever thought of leaving, while slightly less than one-quarter of conservatives said they had thought about it. However, among the very conservative, about three in ten had contemplated leaving the country.

The questioning then turned to specific reasons a person might want to exit the United States: “Is there anything that could happen in the US that would make you leave the US and move permanently to another country?” Among the very liberal and liberal, the most common event by far was Donald Trump being elected president again. Here are some exact quotes to give the flavor of the responses: “If Trump became president again, I’m leaving”; “The Republicans take over the country and the criminal mob boss Trump becomes president again and we become a true fascist government.” The very liberal were particularly fond of terms like “fascist” (“fascist takeover of the federal government”). And finally, “If Trump gets elected in 2024, I think he will set up a dictatorship. I do not want to live under such a regime.” Liberals also mentioned issues like racism (for example, “The continued police violence unfair legal system racism”) and government actions against LGBTQ groups—however, a Trump return to the presidency was by far the dominant response.

On the conservative side, there were anti-Biden remarks such as “Biden being re-elected or another Democrat like Biden.” But the dominant theme was a socialist or communist takeover of the government: “Continue socialist programs that we can’t continue to pay for” or “the continuous loss of freedom and government intrusion on past way of life.” Mask mandates and loss of religious freedom were often mentioned as further examples of freedom under attack by the government. As was the case for the very liberal and liberal, the very conservative were more likely than conservatives to picture extreme scenarios (e.g., a communist or Chinese takeover of the country) rather than more run-of-the-mill socialism. Nevertheless, major themes were consistent: socialism-communism is eroding our freedom as Americans.

Meanwhile, moderates (as one would expect) were less likely to say they were leaving.  However, among those who said they had considered it, the reasoning was often a mixture of the economy and some concern for freedom. The moderates’ worries were more measured, though, judging by the tenor of their comments. 

It is not surprising that ideology affects one’s predisposition to leave the country. After all, the very liberal and the very conservative have the strongest opinions about issues, institutions, political parties, and events. It’s natural that they would react most dramatically when the political tide flows in the opposite direction. For example, when asked whether Biden legitimately won the presidency, the results follow the expected pattern as shown in Table 1. Among the very liberal, the number is 94 percent, which falls approximately linearly over ideology to 22 percent among the very conservative.

Table 1: Biden and Election Legitimacy By Ideology

 

Very Liberal

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

Very Conservative

Biden Legitimately Won the Election

94%

90%

71%

33%

22%

Biden Did Not Legitimately Win the Election

6%

10%

29%

67%

78%

 

No matter how much one wants to leave the United States, however, it is a challenge to actually take the plunge.  Hence, the follow-up question: “How likely do you think it is that you will leave the US?” Table 2 provides the results. 

Table 2: Likelihood of Leaving the US by Ideology

How likely do you think it is that you will leave the US?

Very Liberal

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

Very Conservative

Very Likely

5%

3%

5%

2%

4%

Somewhat Likely

13%

12%

12%

7%

13%

A Small Chance

63%

57%

40%

35%

32%

Would Not Consider Leaving

19%

28%

43%

57%

51%

 

Introducing this question provides a more accurate picture of the types of Americans who would seriously consider moving. Only 19 percent of the very liberal would not consider leaving, while majorities of the conservatives are certain they are staying put. However, as was the case in the original question, the very conservative were more likely than conservatives to say they would leave.

Taken together, these results indicate that liberals of various strengths are currently most likely to consider emigrating, with their most salient concern being the potential re-election of Donald Trump (followed generally by concerns about discrimination). On the right, the very conservative are less likely to say they would leave. When asked what would push them to do so, however, they consistently espoused fears about the country moving toward socialism/communism and a loss of freedoms (for these individuals, often as exemplified by vaccination and mask mandates). Liberalism and conservatism translate relatively smoothly into Democratic and Republican, with only 2 percent of Republicans in this survey liberal and only 7 percent of Democrats conservative. The combination of ideology and partisanship that pervades American politics includes the desire, if not the actual ability, to leave the country.