Regular readers will know that I've been spending a lot of time in Alaska the past five years, and I've often had discussions with born-and-bred Alaskan friends about the political future of the state and about whether an influx of "new Alaskans" coupled with generational shifts in attitudes might change the state's political calculus. In particular, on resource issues like the one I've been researching, the Pebble Mine, it seemed to me that Alaskan attitudes were changing rapidly, especially in the urban population centers where the majority of Alaskans live (half of Alaska's population lives in the Anchorage area alone).
Consider the hunch verified: writing yesterday on his 538 blog over at the New York Times, pundit wizard-king Nate Silver noted that the Democratic nominee has been losing by gradually slimmer margins in the Presidential elections, from Gore losing by 31 percentage points in 2000 to Obama losing by 22 points in 2008--in spite of running against Alaska Governor Sarah Palin--and then by just 14 points this year. (The 2004 election, though not mentioned by Silver, conforms to the trend, with Kerry losing to Bush by 26 points.) And Silver's research seems to bear out my anecdotal observations on population:
Alaska’s population is also changing; between 2010 and 2011, Alaska had the third-highest population growth rate in the country, trailing only Texas and Utah.
Where are those new Alaskans coming from? Many are from liberal states on the West Coast. Between 2005 and 2009, about 4,300 Californians moved to Alaska per year, making it the top state for domestic emigration to Alaska. So did 4,200 residents per year from Washington and 2,200 from Oregon.
But because of the state's dependence on the oil and gas industries, Alaska, Silver says, is likely to remain conservative on economic and resource issues, and vote conservative because of them, at least for the time being.
But a Democrat who was perceived as being of the center-left or the libertarian left, especially one from a western state like Colorado’s governor, John W. Hickenlooper, could conceivably be competitive in Alaska. And if Alaska continues to add population from states like California and Washington, it could be competitive on a more regular basis in 2020 and going forward.
Stranger things have happened, and I'm certainly not going to argue with Nate Silver.