Demographic Reality

With the most recent election barely behind us, a little recognized piece of news data was released this week by the United States Census Bureau. Despite the fact that a national census is constitutionally mandated every ten years for apportionment purposes, the Census Bureau does not go into hibernation for nine years only to emerge when a year ends in a zero. Most recently, they released state by state population gains since the last official census in 2010. These figures are through April, 2012.

What they reveal is what the 2010 census indicated as far as population shifts and growth within the United States. Not only is this important as concerns apportionment of representatives in the US House, but it also determines each state’s electoral votes in the next decade. Reapportionment takes place every ten years, so if these two-year trends hold true through the decade- and they have been fairly accurate in the past- some very interesting results occur. These results would then guide presidential election strategy in the next decade.

In all, twelve states would see adequate population growth or decrease to warrant a change in the number of Representatives and electoral votes. It should be noted that only two states show zero or negative anticipated/projected population growth- Rhode Island and Michigan. All other states show population growth, but not all at a rate to maintain the current balance of representative or electoral power.

Of these twelve states either gaining or losing electoral votes, nine of them voted for Obama in 2012 for a net loss of only two electoral votes.

Starting out west, California actually stands to gain a seat/electoral vote based upon anticipated population growth. Most of that growth, however, will be attributable to the increase in the Hispanic population in that state. Considering that the Democratic Party is making greater inroads with that community than the GOP, one would expect California to be counted safely in the Democratic column for some time to come unless the Republican Party can do something to stem that tide. More on this a little later.

Most interesting is that the upper midwest/Rust Belt stands to lose political clout in the next round of the census. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania all stand to lose a seat apiece in the House and an electoral vote. In the 2010 census, all these states also lost a seat with Ohio losing two. Hence, the population drain in these states shows no sign of abating despite the fact that three of the four currently have Republican Governors.

In the Northeast, both New York and Rhode Island stand to lose a seat/electoral vote. New York lost two in the 2010 census. Rhode Island, on the other hand, has been making the cut each census and despite its relatively small geographical size, it has maintained enough of a population to keep its two seats in the House and four electoral votes. If these trends hold true, Rhode Island’s luck has run out and they will join the ranks of states with only one representative and three electoral votes. Incidentally, Wyoming has the greatest per capita representation in Washington, DC and they should relinquish that title in 2020 when Vermont will then wear the crown. Wyoming’s population is expected to increase 11.35% over the decade bringing it to about 628,000 while Vermont’s is expected to increase .02% bringing it to 626,000. Rhode Island is expected to lose about 12,000 in population thus brining it within the threshold area of losing a seat/electoral vote.

Other than California, whose population growth is attributable to the increasing Hispanic community, if the northeast, midwest and Rust Belt are losing seats, where are they going? The answer is to the south, except in the case of West Virginia which is on pace to lose a seat despite a minimal gain in population (13,000). Florida, which gained two seats in 2010, is expected to gain another seat in 2020. Likewise, North Carolina and Virginia are also expected to gain seats. The data out of Virginia could be disturbing for the Republican Party since most of the population gains are concentrated in the northern counties around Washington, DC. As one should be aware, winning those counties or holding one’s own there was the key to Obama victory in Virginia in both 2008 and 2012. That would intimate that the northern, growing area of Virginia is either liberalizing (if you are a Democrat) or moderating (if you are a Republican). Either way, the political landscape in Virginia is changing such that the GOP needs to change with the times if they hope to obtain their anticipated 12 electoral votes.

North Carolina is another southern state expected to gain a seat. Although it went for Romney this time out, it should be remembered that Obama won this state barely in 2008. Most Republican losses down ticket in the House nationally were mitigated by gains by the GOP in North Carolina. Still, given the state of disarray in the Democratic Party in North Carolina, one cannot rely on that state of affairs going forward. Somewhere along the line, the North Carolina Democratic Party will get themselves together and start to make gains on GOP seat holders.

Florida is the other southern state to likely gain a seat after gaining two seats in 2010. Most of the growth in population in the state is still in the Miami-Dade metropolitan area, but increasingly in the Orlando/Orange County area. When they added a seat there in 2011 for the 2012 election, it was won by a Democrat. Hence, one would expect that future reapportionment would likely center on the growing Orlando area and its suburbs and likely to produce another Democratic seat. Why? Because 2012 proved it and the growth in population in that area is due to an influx of Hispanics, a demographic Republicans have a problem with currently. Unlike the Miami area to the south which was once dominated by Cuban-Americans, a group that traditionally identified with the GOP, Hispanic population growth in Florida is increasingly Puerto Rican and Mexican-American (and other central/South American ethnicities). These groups are not necessarily more aligned with the GOP like the older generation Cuban-American. In fact, there is evidence that the newer generation of Cuban in Florida is more readily identifying with the Democratic Party. Should this trend continue, then although Florida may send more whites than Hispanics to Congress, all bets would be off when it comes to any statewide election (President, Senate, Governor).

That leaves Texas which, if the population trends continue, is expected to pick up another three seats in 2020 after gaining four this time around. Unlike California and Florida, not all of the population growth is directly attributable to the increase in the Hispanic population. In fact, about two-thirds of it is and extrapolating from there, assuming Hispanics continue their drift to the Democratic Party and a Texas Hispanic is like one elsewhere, one would expect two of these three states to go to the Democrats. Prior to the 2012 election, 72% of the House delegation from Texas was Republican. After the 2012 elections, 66.7% of the delegation is Republican. One indicator of future trends that needs to be watched is the state legislative elections. Currently, with a Republican Governor, the GOP controls the lower house in Texas with 95 seats to 55 for the Democrats and Republicans control the Texas Senate 19 seats to 12. If Democrats make gains in the next round of state legislative elections, then it may lend more support to the theory that Texas is slowly losing its deep red status.

California, New York, the upper midwest, and northeast are givens for the Democrats. Collectively, these states give any Democratic presidential candidate an approximate 164 electoral vote head start. Conversely, the Republicans can reliably count on the south and, to a lesser extent, the mountain states out west. Collectively, they form a 105 electoral vote (approximate) firewall against that Democratic head start for a net 59 electoral vote advantage for the Democrats. Recently, the GOP has heavily relied on Texas and their electoral votes. They currently have 38 and if they were to have 41 as expected, that seriously cuts into that net 59 head start for the Democrats leaving 18 more to get even. Hence, one would expect states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida to continue to play the role of key state from here. However, if Texas should shift- and there are some signs of that- then it would be game over for the Republican Party as far as Presidential politics goes. With a northeast/upper midwest/California/Texas Democratic electoral vote coalition, there is no way the Republican candidate could win. And even though states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin may have Republican governors or even legislatures, they still handily voted for Obama despite these facts. That is, they may be opportunistic Republican locally, but still Democrat nationally. What else would explain a Tammy Baldwin or Sherrod Brown victory and electoral votes handed to Barack Obama?

California is a lost cause. Besides the GOP being in disarray in that state, lets just cross it off the list whether the “problem” is Hispanic growth or not. Even former GOP bastions like Orange County are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and Republicans will be left with a bunker electoral mentality and strategy winning small pockets to pick off a few districts and make it look good/close in others. However, Texas and Florida are winnable states going forward. There is still enough of a base of the traditional Republican voter in both states. Assuming the GOP can stem the tide of Hispanics flocking to the Democratic Party in these states (and Colorado and Arizona I might also add), then Republican prospects look better.

I still assert and have yet to seen evidence that immigration is the number one priority among Hispanics in this country. Bread and butter issues along with education are their primary concerns. In fact, every survey I have seen among Hispanics puts education at the top of the list. And that is where the Republican Party needs to start. The first thing they should stress is school choice. Why should a Hispanic child be denied the same opportunities that a rich or even middle class non-Hispanic child enjoys when it comes to choice of schooling? Whether it is vouchers or tax credits or whatever, Hispanics would likely stand the most to gain academically just as African-Americans were gaining the most academically in Washington, DC before Obama pulled the plug on that program. To me, opposition makes no sense unless you are a member of the NEA/AFT. If a state is going to spend X amount per pupil educating them, does it make a difference where that X amount of dollars goes? Naturally, the public schools will cry this is a diversion of needed funds. But, if they are educating less children, then logic dictates they would require less funds. I don’t mean that the Republican Party should be behind some grand scheme to pit public education against private education, but they should be the party of educational choice. As Condi Rice noted, educational equality is the major civil rights issue of the day. The Republican Party should be ahead of the curve in this debate and what could be a greater civil right that affording everyone the same educational opportunities that the more affluent currently enjoy? This is a money-neutral proposition since governments are going to be expending funds per pupil anyway. They could even means-test vouchers that may actually help save the government money, but alas that would be too commonsense for the likes of the public teacher unions.

Regardless, the Republican Party is faced with some daunting demographic realities moving forward. It is not so much the talk in the media of the growing Hispanic population nationwide. It is where that growth is occurring and the effects it will have on presidential politics in the near and distant future. A growing Hispanic population in a deeply blue state like California or New York will not change the dynamics one iota. It is in states that Republicans MUST win in order to prevail in presidential elections that is important. One can now say that even Texas has joined those ranks.