Every election seems to feature some group of people–often celebrities–who swear that they will leave the country if one candidate or another is elected. It’s become a kind of American election tradition. But how many people actually follow through on their promises to hit the road and live abroad due to election results?
The Washington Post recently published an interesting article that tried to reach conclusions about American expatriates by crunching through some actual data. It found that, to be sure, there have been big spikes in Google searches about moving to Canada in connection with elections and, more recently, the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade. There was an especially big spike in such searches in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, that constitutes the all-time peak in such search requests.
The Post article also notes, however, that only a tiny fraction of Americans actually leave the U.S.A., and an even smaller number do it for political reasons. In fact, the United States is the number one destination for immigrants, by a considerable margin, but only 26th in the number of emigrants. Americans are far less likely to emigrate than citizens of some other countries–but because of our size, that still means millions of Americans have moved overseas. Data from the United Nations and the World Bank indicates that about 2.8 million Americans now live abroad, although there is some dispute about exactly who to count in that category. The data analysis also shows that Americans who do emigrate go to a lot of different countries, with the top ten list being Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, France, and Italy.
The data also suggest that very few Americans leave because of election results. Instead, there are a range of reasons for the departures. For example, Mexico is number one on the list of relocations because many of the Americans who relocate to Mexico are children who were born in America and then returned to Mexico with their parents. For other emigrants, ending up in another country often is just the result of a series of circumstances that the article describes as emigration by accident, with a typical scenario being an American who goes abroad to study or work, meets and marries a native of the country of their destination, and ends up staying there. For those Americans who are making conscious decisions to move abroad, the other big reasons include retirement and a simple desire to explore.
In short, there really aren’t many “political emigrants” from the U.S., despite the fervent promises that we hear during election season–probably because promises made during the heat of the moment end up going by the wayside when passions cool, careful analysis of possible destinations occurs, and Americans realize that staying here beats the alternative for a lot of reasons. But if you do go abroad and become one of those accidental emigrants, you’ll probably find a community of other accidental American emigrants wherever you go.