The Politics of Amazon’s HQ2 Search

Many observers have analyzed the cities vying to be Amazon’s second headquarters, now down to 20 finalists. Amazon HQ2 is a massive economic decision with political implications — not just at the local level, but nationally. President Donald Trump has been critical of Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, largely because of his role as owner of the Washington Post.

More broadly, the growing concentration of economic success in the coastal United States — in technology hubs like Silicon Valley and financial and political capitals like New York and Washington, D.C. — arguably blinded elites in those areas to Trump’s rise and led to his unexpected victory. With HQ2, will Amazon reinforce the success of cities that have already been huge winners from the technology revolution, or will it give a nod in the direction of the so-called “rise of the rest” — choosing a city outside the coasts?

To better understand the political dynamics of the HQ2 search, we decided to take a look at some political data from the 16 different U.S. media markets with an HQ2 finalist. Drawing upon our exclusive dataset of Presidential election results at the media market level, and some updated estimates of voter demographics in those areas, we tried to answer two questions: How did they vote in the 2016 election and what were the demographics of voters in these areas?

Here are the numbers:

Some takeaways from our data:

  • Amazon HQ2 finalists lean more Democratic than the country as a whole and the rest of the top 50 U.S. markets who aren’t finalists. The finalist markets voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 57 to 38 percent. Other Top 50 markets — areas that might have been realistic candidates for Amazon — leaned towards Clinton by just 3 points — 48 to 45 percent. Meanwhile, markets outside the top 50 voted for Trump by a 55 to 39 percent margin.
  • But some Trump-supporting areas made the cut, with a total of 5 markets (Nashville, Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and Columbus) supporting Trump at the media market level. Of these, Nashville was Trump’s strongest market, with a 60 to 35 percent advantage over Clinton.
  • The most Democratic HQ2 market is Washington, D.C. — with a 64 to 29 percent Clinton advantage. The area has three finalists: D.C., Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.
  • HQ2 markets became slightly more Democratic in the 2016 election, with a 2% margin swing to Clinton. That compares to a slight 0.7% swing to Trump in non-HQ2 top 50 markets and a 7.5% swing to Trump in non-Top 50 markets.
  • HQ2 markets are also more racially and ethnically diverse — with a 35% nonwhite electorate in 2016, compared to 29% in other top 50 markets and 19% in non-Top 50 markets.
  • Education also differentiates HQ2 markets from the rest. We estimate that 44% of all 2016 voters in HQ2 markets had a college degree, compared to 40% in other top 50 markets and 36% outside the top 50. A starker difference is seen in the ratio of white voters without a college degree — a combination of higher levels of diversity and education in HQ2 markets. Whites without a college degree were just 33 percent of all voters in HQ2 markets vs. 42 percent in the rest of the top 50 and 50 percent outside the top 50. Technology companies depend on an educated workforce, so it wasn’t surprising to find that the college education rate was the factor most statistically correlated to being selected as an HQ2 finalist.

With Americans increasingly sorting themselves politically by geography, Amazon’s HQ2 decision is likely to be scrutinized through a political lens. Here’s a quick cheat sheet of which markets lead the way along key characteristics that are relevant to who wins elections:

Most college graduates

Washington, D.C. (52%)
Austin, TX (51%)
Boston, MA (50%)

Fastest growing (by 2012–2016 turnout change)

Austin, TX (+20.5%)
Dallas, TX (+12.2%)
Miami, FL (+11.5%)

Most diverse

Miami, FL (69% nonwhite)
Los Angeles, CA (52% nonwhite)
Atlanta, GA (39% nonwhite)

Most politically balanced

Atlanta, GA (Clinton +0.2%)
Columbus, OH (Trump +1.9%)

Most Clinton voters

Washington, DC (64.2%)
Miami, FL (64.1%)
Chicago, IL (63.2%)

Most Trump voters

Nashville, TN (60.3%)
Indianapolis, IN (54.4%)
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (53.5%)

Getting bluer

Austin, TX (11.8% swing to Clinton)
Los Angeles, CA (8.0% swing)
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (6.8% swing)

Getting redder

Columbus, OH (6.4% swing to Trump)
Indianapolis, IN (5.4% swing)
Pittsburgh, PA (5.0% swing)