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Pickleball and Politics

In addition to considering recreation, climate, cost and proximity to family when deciding where to retire, add one more factor: politics

By Laurie Saloman

For generations, retirees from the Midwest and Northeast have moved to sunnier climes, where they can play golf or pickleball year round and never shovel snow again. Others have swapped the suburbs for city life and easier access to art, music, theater and fine dining.

Lower taxes and proximity to grandchildren are other considerations. Recently, retirees have added another factor when deciding where to live: the political climate.

Pickle ball players tapping paddles before beginning a game. Next Avenue, retirement, politics.
Politics may not have overshadowed life decisions in years past, for some people it is now front and center.  |  Credit: Getty

While politics may not have overshadowed life decisions in years past, for some people it is now front and center. Evidence of this abounds in Facebook groups geared toward people who are considering pulling up stakes.

Along with home prices, taxes, schools and transportation, the politics of different towns, cities and states are routinely scrutinized. For those who want more hand holding, certain relocation businesses help people parse the politics of potential new hometowns and even connect them with partisan clubs and organizations once they get there.

Increasing Tensions

For Karyn Segal Robinson, 58, a retired pharmaceutical representative, politics loomed large when she and her husband, Jay, contemplated leaving Miami, their home of many years.

"We wanted to be somewhere where it was easier to have conversations."

Although Miami still leans more progressive than Florida as a whole, Robinson, a liberal, nevertheless found the recent rightward lurch in state politics "exhausting." When discussions with friends became tense, she and Jay realized it was time to go.

"We wanted to be somewhere where it was easier to have conversations," Segal Robinson said. "[In Florida] you can't [talk about] inclusivity and diversity, and now you can't say 'gay.'"

(Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill forbidding Florida public school teachers to reference sexual orientation or gender identity. Called the Parental Rights in Education bill, opponents have dubbed it the "Don't Say Gay" bill.)

A Better Cultural Fit

Segal Robinson and her husband visited Colorado, where their son attends college, and came home realizing it was the place for them. Ultimately, they chose Democratic-leaning Boulder as their new home.

"It's a small city, but you've got a lot going on culturally," said Robinson, who has found a circle of like-minded progressives. "We've got a group of friends now and something to do at least three nights a week."

While not everyone holds identical beliefs, with some Democrats on the conservative end of the spectrum and some further to the left, Robinson enjoys the fact that people in Boulder can discuss sensitive topics without rancor.

Voting With Your Feet

This desire to be with people who are on our general wavelength can be powerful. Journalist Bill Bishop co-authored a book called "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart," which delves into how people choose to live near others with similar beliefs — and how this urge affects the nation.

"Given that you have more choices in retirement, I would think the sorting would be more pronounced."

Bishop's book does not focus specifically on political sorting in retirement, but he is certain this kind of clustering exists in an older population.

"Given that you have more choices in retirement, I would think the sorting would be more pronounced," he said, while acknowledging the lack of firm data on the movement of Democrats and Republicans of retirement age.

"You can see it in certain recreation counties, especially in the mountain ski counties," Bishop added. "I would also think you would have some Californians moving to Austin for its politics and (somewhat) cheaper city life."

One California couple who decamped to Texas, although not liberal-leaning Austin, is Joe Vranich and his wife Marie. After years spent living and working in Orange County, two years ago they settled in the Dallas suburb of McKinney. The area's conservative bent was a prime consideration when making the move.

Deep in the Heart of Low Taxes

"California politicians just love high taxes," said Vranich, who would have incurred steep capital gains taxes from the sale of an out-of-state property had he not moved. "The cost of living in California is really, really remarkable."

Vranich, who still works as a consultant specializing in company relocations, appreciates the lower taxes and looser restrictions on businesses in Texas.

He also enjoys his neighbors' friendliness, the area's natural beauty and what he says are low levels of homelessness and crime. But while he loves his new state, there's at least one part of it he can do without. "The 'defund the police' movement, which is foolish as heck, is alive in Austin," he lamented.


All Politics Is Local

Vranich's choice of Dallas over Democratic-leaning Austin, much like Robinson's decision to move to Boulder instead of more conservative Colorado Springs, illustrates what has become evident to sociologists who study migration patterns: The selection of a particular state likely takes a back seat to the choice of a particular city or town.

In other words, while new residents may abhor politics at the state level, they may be quite content if they move to a neighborhood that they feel reflects their own politics.

"The amount of polarization is much higher within states even than across states," said Ethan Kaplan, associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland College Park and coauthor of a 2022 study on partisan geographical sorting in the U.S. "There's a lot more sorting at micro levels."

"We as Americans need to understand reasonable differences."

This explains why, even in so-called blue states, some Republican-leaning towns rarely elect Democrats to local office, while very red states still contain pockets of progressiveness.

Open to Dialogue

Michelle van Schouwen, 65, lives in one of those pockets. After selling her marketing company, she and her husband Don moved from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to Sarasota, Florida. They live there eight months a year, spending summers on Cape Cod.

The choice to move to an increasingly Republican-leaning state has yielded benefits, van Schouwen said, noting that as a liberal couple they find it valuable to socialize and converse with people whose views don't necessarily align with theirs. They're also able to make more of an obvious impact with their charitable work.

"We find that our local contributions, particularly in my case toward climate and environmental advocacy, are more needed and perhaps more appreciated here than in Massachusetts, where so many people are already doing the work," she said.

Ultimately, how much the politics of a potential retirement location matters, and how important it is to be near like-minded voters, is up to you.

For van Schouwen, the bluish-reddish blend turned out to be a plus.

"I've come to believe we may do better mixing with and understanding people of different political viewpoints, although I admit I lack the patience for the hard right," she said. "But that vast moderate space? We as Americans need to understand reasonable differences."

Laurie Saloman has more than 20 years of experience writing about topics from health to parenting to money. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and lives in New Jersey with her family. Read More
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