There goes the decade.
That decennial phenomenon “reapportionment” is back in the news with the U.S. Census Bureau releasing the latest population statistics Tuesday—there are now 308,745,538 Americans living in the United States—and the media musing over changes in store for the nation’s political map.
Congressional seats will next year be reapportioned based on new state population counts—state legislatures and governors will handle the redistricting—as will the Electoral College. Eight states are set to gain seats (the big winners are Texas with four new seats, Florida with two) and ten states are set to lose (the big losers: New York and Ohio which both lose two). The general shift is a swell in the populations of the south and the west. While most have declared this a big advantage for the GOP—population growth in the south and west favors Republican-held states and districts—the rise in minority populations, traditionally part of the Democratic base, means the jury is still out on which party is best positioned to take advantage of America’s new demographics.
The political fallout, a loss of House seats in the northeast and pickups in the south and southwest, are neatly summarized and mapped in this New York Times graphic.
And last night’s NBC Nightly News report has some nice graphics in its quick rundown of what the Census data means for Congress.
Most outlets are running with ledes similar to that chosen by NBC: this is good news for the GOP. The Bloomberg report opens: “Republican strongholds in the U.S. South and West are poised to gain political power in time for the 2012 presidential election, taking electoral votes away from states Barack Obama carried in 2008, new population data is likely to show.” The New York Times’s Sabrina Tavernise and Jeff Zeleny take a characteristically more ambivalent approach, describing “far-reaching implications for elections over the next decade” before eventually conceding that Republicans seem to be bolstered here, though with an important caveat.
If President Obama were to win in the next election the same states he carried in 2008, he would receive six fewer electoral votes under the new map. Yet that shift would be significant only if the race were very close.
It is also unclear if the gains will go mostly to Republicans, since more than three-quarters of the population gains in the last decade were members of minorities, populations that tend to vote for Democrats.
The Times then goes on to explain further the Republican advantage, as they see it.
On the surface, Republicans would seem to have an overwhelming advantage. Most of the states gaining seats trend Republican, and most of those losing them tend to elect Democrats. What is more, Republicans will be well-placed to steer the process, with Republican governors outnumbering Democratic ones 29 to 20, with one independent, come January.
“Republicans are in the best position since modern redistricting began,” said Tim Storey, an expert on redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Of the 336 districts whose borders are drawn by state legislatures, Republicans have full control of 196, Mr. Storey said. Democrats control legislatures for 49; a further 91 are split. The rest would be drawn by divided legislatures or appointed commissions.
Elsewhere at the Times, Michael D. Shear writes on the Caucus blog that there is an argument to be made that this is in fact a potential boon for Democrats, signaling an increase in minority voters and in the populations of Democratic pockets in Republican stronghold states.
At Slate, Dave Weigel isn’t seeing it:
This is about as bad as it could get for Democrats, and as good as it could get for Republicans. The next GOP presidential candidate gets six free electoral votes from South Carolina, Texas, Utah. The Democratic caucus in the House is about to see internal warfare in the rust belt and northeast, as their members are forced into Thunderdome battle for the diminished number of seats. Only in Illinois, I think, will the Democrats be able to create a map that hurts the GOP’s newly elected members and takes back a seat or two.