Census Results: Clear Geographic Win, But Work Left to be Done on Demographics

Republicans must have been very good girls and boys this year. It seems like every week now they are getting a political gift. Between the election results, the approval of the tax package, and the judicial blow to Obamacare, the conservative stocking is just about jam packed. Well its time to make a little more room under the tree. Yesterday the Census Bureau announced the results of its decennial census that left many in the Republican party shouting “joy to the world.”

States in the South and the West are set to gain the most seats, with most coming at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest. This represents an enormous coup for Republicans and their future electoral hopes. Of the changes, ten seats are leaving states that voted with President Obama in 2008, while states that voted for John McCain are gaining eight seats.

Of the states set to gain seats, Texas will gain four, Florida will gain two, and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington will each gain one. Of those eight states, only Nevada and Washington have a Cook Partisan Voting Index that favors Democrats.

The electoral shakeup doesn’t end there. Early next year, state governments will begin carving up newly drawn House districts to satisfy the Constitutional requirement that each district have roughly the same number of people. Redrawing the district boundary lines may be a powerful tool for Republicans to further gain the upper hand from this decade’s population shifts.

Tim Storey, an expert in redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the New York Times, “Republicans are in the best position since modern redistricting began.” That is the result of the historic gains made by Republicans in state governments this election cycle. All told, Republicans picked up 680 seats in state legislatures – the largest statehouse seat gain by either party in history. Republican representation in statehouses nationwide is larger than at any point since 1928. The new seats translate into new GOP control of 196 of the 336 districts whose borders are drawn by state legislatures, while Democrats control only 49. That is nearly a four-to-one advantage in redistricting.

Before you break into carols and start pounding eggnog in celebration, the results aren’t all tinsel and mistletoe. The geographic trends look promising. The South and West, which typically tilt Republican, are set to gain seats at the expense of traditionally Democratic areas. But the demographic trends are likely to tell a different story.

Over the next few months the Census Bureau will begin releasing more detailed results of the census, including data on race, ethnicity, and age. One would expect a significant percentage of the growth to be the result of the increasing population of minorities, particularly Hispanics. So although Republican states will see gains, it could be Democratic districts that have experienced the growth. Or as Tim Storey explains, “Just because Texas is getting four new seats does not mean Republicans will get four new Republicans to Congress.”

As this graph from Alan Abramowitz shows, black and other nonwhite populations will make up nearly 35 percent of the electorate by 2020.

Young voters, who went 66%-to-32% for Obama are also adding to their ranks each year. As today’s younger generations become a greater percentage of the electorate, Democrats could build a base of support that Republicans will struggle to overcome.

This is not to say that Republicans have lost the battle. It’s simply to say that we must get to work playing catch up. The conservative message is an inclusive one of self-empowerment and limited government, neither of which should preclude the party from being competitive among young adults or minorities. However, the Republican Party must make an increased effort to court these voters. This does not mean sacrificing principles, it means crafting and targeting your message in a way that resonates with all voter groups.

College Republicans stand on the front lines of this plan. We understand that younger generations are the most diverse in our nation’s history. Standing pat is akin to ceding the future. We must aggressively court young adults, who represent future voters, and minorities, who will increasingly become the deciding force in future elections. So even as we cheer the census results, understand that we’ve only won geographically, there is still much to be done demographically.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee