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The Census Ratifies the Sunbelt's Supremacy and Buoys the GOP

3 years ago
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"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."
That aphorism -- attributed to Mark Twain -- has been dramatically repudiated by Tuesday's initial release of statewide population data from the 2010 Census. The quest for mild winters remains the great constant of American demographics. For the first time in history, more than half of the nation's population (308,745,538) resides either in the South or in the warm-weather states of California, Arizona and New Mexico.
Even though they had been long anticipated, the Census results (used to allocate House seats and, by the same formula, electoral votes) further fuel the Republican resurgence. If the 2008 election were rerun based on the 2010 Census, John McCain would have corralled an additional six electoral votes (although at this rate he still would not become president until 2170). The major potential gains for the Republicans come from GOP-dominated Texas (which was awarded a whopping four more electoral votes) and the 2008 Obama states of New York and Ohio (which lost two votes each).
While there will be no more tinkering with the Electoral College until after the 2020 Census, the epic struggle over congressional redistricting has just begun. The Census Bureau will not release any city, county or census tract data until February, so population trends within states remain estimates. Other factors also will shape redistricting, from control of state legislatures and gubernatorial mansions (advantage Republicans) to federal voting rights scrutiny of states like Texas to assure minority representation (advantage Democrats). Despite hopeful scenarios pushed by Democrats, the political consensus is that when the last computer draws the last gerrymandered district, House Republicans will have strengthened their 242-to-193 seat margin in the incoming Congress.
The regional break in states winning and losing House seats is unequivocal. The gains are in Texas (four), Florida (two), South Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Washington State (one each). The counterbalancing losses are in New York (two), Ohio (two), Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri (one each). The only exception to this story of Sunbelt ascendancy is that Katrina-ravaged Louisiana lost a House seat in the new Census.
The national population growth rate (9.7 percent) in the first decade of the 21st century was lower than in any decade since the Depression (population grew at 7.3 percent during the 1930s). At a press conference unveiling the first wave of population data, Census Director Robert Groves estimated that about 60 percent of the population growth comes from natural causes (more births than deaths) and about 40 percent is the result of immigration (legal and illegal). Following procedures that date back to the first Census in 1790, no questions were asked about citizenship or immigration status.
It is tempting to become beguiled by Census factoids. With 37.3 million people (a 10 percent increase over 2000), California is roughly equivalent to Poland (38.0 million). Despite a 14 percent growth rate in the past decade, Wyoming (just 563,626 people -- and it seems cruel to round off that number) remains the least populated state, a distinction that it has held since Alaska surged past it in the 1990 Census. Michigan, reeling from the decline of the auto industry, was the only state to lose population (down 55,000) during the 2000s. And Nevada recorded the fastest growth rate of any state during the last decade (35.1 percent), even though it may now be actually losing population because of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation.
But far more important than these details is the continued demographic collapse of the Northeast (the nation's least populous region, believe it or not) and the Midwest. In every Census since 1940, the population of the South and West has grown faster than that of either of these Frost Belt regions. Continuing a losing streak that rivals the Prohibition Party, New York has been stripped of at least two House seats every decade since 1950 declining from 45 seats to 27. The last time a state north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Continental Divide was awarded an additional House seat was half a century ago. (For those who love this kind of political trivia: Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey each picked up an additional seat in the 1960 Census).
Enshrined among the first paragraphs of the U.S. Constitution, the Census remains a crucial building block of representative democracy. As early as 1776, Pennsylvania's state constitution unequivocally declared, "Representation in proportion to the number of taxable inhabitants is the only principle which can at all times secure liberty." But as recently as the 1920s, Congress refused to reapportion for an entire decade because rural interests rightly feared that they would lose power to the fast-growing immigrant-filled cities of the Northeast and Midwest.
The reason to invoke this Census history is that every line of demographic data will be parsed and pureed for partisan advantage during redistricting. But for the moment -- in an unbroken chain dating back to 1790s when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson presided over the first Census -- Americans can marvel at the statistical precision of this epic inventory of who we are as a people. All 308,745,538 of us.

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11 Comments

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joe

The key to this issue is the reason that the people are moving to the sunbelt/ red states. If it is because they are fed up with the high taxes in the liberal Democrat run states where they formally lived then they would vote Republican to avoid again paying high taxes in their new locations. If they moved simply because they preferred a warmer climate they would probably vote the same way they always have voted.

December 23 2010 at 12:03 AM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
donran42

I disagree with the notion that increased population of the south equates to more Republican clout. Many, if not most, of those leaving the northeast & midwest to head south are probably Democrats. That could ultimately hurt the southern Republicans.

December 22 2010 at 4:27 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
ajschrod

There's nothing "supreme" about the sun belt other than it's warm there! Human nature wants us to be there regardless of party, and many christian sourherners are so far out of step with common sense and natural progress that they hardly represent average GOPers anywhere!

December 22 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
djh6721

Odd the top ten welfare states are RUBY RED. Perhaps people are moving where the GOP talks a good game but sucks the Fed dry.

December 22 2010 at 3:34 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
nokabosh

People are moving to the states with the lowest taxes, most jobs, and run by republicans.

December 22 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
toolazytovote

Obama will win. Not that I think he is who he says he is, nor will I vote...obviously..but Obama will win.

December 22 2010 at 9:30 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Len

Already, the far right see itself taking over the world. Opps. Blacks, hispanics and asians are the main reason for the increasing populations in the sun belt and they vote Democratic. Sorry about that.

December 21 2010 at 10:41 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Len's comment
ettu

It has been reported that a whopping 75% of Americans completed and mailed their census forms, as requested. I am assuming that we have far more illegal aliens in residence than we have been told. The 308M reported does include illegals. In this instance, it worked in favor of the Mods/Consv/Republicans, because it probably helped Texas, Florida,and AZ, to pick up seats.

December 21 2010 at 10:02 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ettu's comment
welchclock

As a person who worked the census I was amazed there was no box for Latino origin in so called "Race Box"- White, Asian , Black , Native American, -Now where do Mexicans fit in? There was a other (write in ) box and one would write in what they chose Latino , Spanish, Cubian , Mexican, Point being they called themself's what they chose and in the end result it will be filed differently giving them less clout.

December 22 2010 at 12:51 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

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