29 December 2009

Census 2010's Predicted Winners and Losers

The U.S. Census is used to determine how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state will receive. The 2010 census will probably leave Colorado unchanged, with seven seats in the U.S. House (although the way those seven districts are drawn will probably change significantly). But, many states will gain or lose seats:

[S]even states are all but certain to lose at least one seat: Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Another six states are all but certain to gain at least one seat: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah. . . . Texas could pick up as many as 4 congressional seats; New York and Ohio could lose 2 seats. California, for the first time since statehood, may not pick up any seats. . . . In the 1940s, the New York delegation was a 45-member congressional powerhouse while Florida was a puny 6-seat weakling. But between 1942 and 2002, Florida gained 19 seats while New York lost 16.

Ohio's slide is likewise long running. This decade's two seat lost comes on the heels of prior slips in representation.

Some of the change is due to births and deaths, and due to immigration from abroad, but a great deal of the change is due to migration to and from U.S. states. Moreover, births and immigration from abroad take decades to change the pool of eligible voters. Domestic migration's political impacts, in contrast, are effectively instantaneous. Indeed, they may be stronger initially, before movers acclimate to their new political environment, than they are with time. While the amount of domestic migration taking place in 2009 was low, the basic trend has been steady. The Northeast and Midwest are steadily seeing their residents move to the South, and to a much smaller extent, the West.

These numbers illustrate one of two powerful demographic trends that have opposite political implications. On one hand, population trends mean that Democratic party strongholds in the Northwest and Midwest are losing strength relative to Republican strongholds in the South and West. On the other hand, demographic groups like people other than non-Hispanic whites, non-Christian people, and urban voters who tend to vote Democratic, are growing rapidly, while non-Hispanic white Christians and rural voters are shrinking as a demographic.

How does this play out?

Florida has historically been a conservative Republican state, the last couple of generations of migration, domestic and international, into the state, have considerably changed its political makeup, to the point where it has been seen as a critical swing state in the last three Presidential elections (at least). Florida is gaining House seats and with them, electoral votes. But, it would take only a few percentage point push for its electorate to become safely Democratic party leaning.

Nevada is another example of a state that has seen huge population gains and moved politically from being a hard core conservative state to swing state status. Nevada's smaller population means that in absolute terms, a small change in the political leanings of Nevada voters in absolute number of voters in one or two counties, could turn this swing state into a liberal stronghold.

Texas often seems like a lost cause by liberals, but its conservative state legislature and Congressional delegation flow, in part, from gerrymandering that could be remedied in the wake of the 2010 census. No one is suggesting that Texas is the next Vermont on the political spectrum. But, a meaningful dilution in the power of conservative Republicans there could have national implications.

Colorado, of course, is the gold standard of a state that was safely Republican turning blue (or at least purple) as a result of dedicated party building efforts, together with demographic and cultural changes within the state (most Coloradans are not natives, and many are migrants from more liberal states).

The Democratic party has a bright future, but only if it can reinvigorate itself in the places where population growth is happening by activating natural allies who have historically often been infrequent voters. A key factor in Obama's 2008 victory was that the Democrats were more energized than their Republican counterparts.

The redistricting and reapportionment consequences of the 2010 Census may have intraparty consequences for Republicans and Democrats alike, as well. Even if changing demographics mean that Democrats are gaining in non-traditional areas enough to make up their losses in the Northeast and Midwest, the priorities of Democrats from different regions may differ.

Most notably, private sector unions are particularly prominent in the Democratic party coalitions of the Northeast and Midwest. Even within the states losing seats, population declines have been deepest in Rust Belt population centers. So, much of the census driven decline in Democratic party power, both through reapportionment and redistricting within states, will come at the expense of die hard pro-union Democrats. Democrats who win in newly created winnable seats, in contrast, are likely to be more concerned about social issues, civil rights, and economic justice secured through business regulation and government programs rather than union power.

In the Republican party, shrinking rural populations will make that party more suburban and less concerned about farm issues, while continued losses from Rockefeller Republicans in the Northeast, as old moderate Republicans retire, die or lose bids against Democrats vying for competitive seats, harden the conservative edge of the Republican party and its character as a primarily Southern regional party. Population growth in Republican strongholds like suburbs in Arizona, Texas, Utah and Georgia, likewise suggest that suburban anti-government, social conservatives will become increasingly influential in the Republican party.

As manufacturing moves from the old Rust Belt to the new Rust Belt in the South, it is only a matter of time before protectionism becomes a defining trade stance of Republicans rather than Democrats.

FOOTNOTE: Colorado Pols has a similar discussion that makes slightly different predictions, most notably, giving New York better odds of losing just one seat, and taking another seat from Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey and Minnesota (but not Missouri). South Carolina and Washington State are added to the ranks of seat winners. None of this alters the gist of the analysis above.

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