U.S. Population Grows 9.7% as South, West Gain Most

Southern and western states will gain a net 11 seats in Congress after outpacing other regions in population growth over the last decade, in what’s likely to spark redistricting battles across the U.S., census data shows.

The nation’s population rose 9.7 percent, to 308,745,538 on April 1, 2010, from 281,421,906 in 2000, the slowest pace of growth since 1930-1940, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.

The gains in the South and West will come at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest, where states will shed a total of 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. That will take electoral votes away from states Barack Obama carried in 2008, a possible boost for Republicans in the 2012 presidential race.

The states will use the data to redraw political districts now that the 435 U.S. House seats have been reallocated.

“It will set off an intense game of musical chairs,” said Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “It’s life or death for these guys.”

Republicans will have an edge in directing the redistricting process because they gained state offices in last month’s elections.

The growth in the overall U.S. population, driven by an increase in Hispanic residents, was the weakest in seven decades as the worst recession since the Great Depression stunted immigration.

Texas Wins Big

Texas was the biggest winner, gaining four seats, while Ohio and New York were the biggest losers, dropping two seats each. Another major gainer was Florida, which added two seats.

Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will each add a seat, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will each lose one.

The state population counts mark the start of a new look at America from the 2010 census. The data will be used by the government to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal funding, by businesses to identify markets, and by social scientists to examine the changing demographics.

Today’s release included only population counts. More detailed data on race, ethnicity, housing and other variables will gradually be provided, beginning in February, for all levels of geography, from neighborhoods to states.

Political Impact

Still, it’s the overall population shifts that will have the most immediate political impact.

Congressional seats are reapportioned every decade after completion of the census, with each district to have roughly the same number of people. After the 2000 census, each lawmaker was supposed to represent some 647,000 people. That number will now grow to about 710,000, the census bureau said.

The reapportionment alters electoral vote calculations because a state’s Electoral College vote is the sum of its House seats, plus its two Senate seats.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, and the elections have sometimes been close, such as when George W. Bush won with 271 electoral votes in 2000.

Of the eight states that gained at least one seat this year, five were won by Arizona Senator John McCain when he was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Obama carried eight of the 10 states that lost seats, including New York and Ohio. The only McCain-voting states in this group are Missouri and Louisiana, which lost one of its seven seats after residents fled from Hurricane Katrina.

Seven Fewer Votes

Obama would have had seven fewer electoral votes under the reapportionment outlined today, said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services Inc., a consulting firm based in Manassas, Virginia. In the 2000 election, he said Bush would have had 14 more electoral votes under this new formula.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, told reporters today the shifts in population don’t necessarily mean significant gains for Republicans or losses for Democrats. He said there are states in the Southwest and Southeast that have swung between the two parties in recent elections.

“I don’t think it will have a huge practical impact,” he said.

Much of the population gain for states like Texas, the second-most-populous state, is the result of Hispanic growth. Hispanics account for about 36 percent of the state’s population, the new census estimates show.

Going for Obama

In 2008, Hispanics voted for Obama by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. The role Hispanic population growth will play in the nation’s politics won’t be fully known until the new districts are drawn.

This redistricting marks the first time in California’s history that it didn’t win an additional U.S. House seat. The nation’s largest state has 53 seats.

“What this census number suggests is that the international immigrants that we have received have been offset by domestic migration losses to other states,” said Hans Johnson, director of research at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco.

The census bureau will roll out in February and March detailed block-level data needed to redraw the districts. That information will be loaded into mapping software, and the states will begin building their new districts over the following months.

Redistricting Edge

The redistricting process often yields oddly shaped boundaries that politicians hope will give their party the advantage in elections. In states losing seats, there will be battles over which incumbents will see their districts redrawn in a politically damaging way.

Redistricting is primarily handled by state lawmakers in some states, while others rely on independent commissions that are meant to reduce the role of political calculations in the process. California voters last month approved a measure stripping the state legislature of the responsibility and giving the assignment to a commission.

With a net gain of six seats in the November elections, the Republicans will occupy governor’s offices in 29 states starting next year. They also will control 25 state legislatures -- including in Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan -- boosting the party’s power in statehouses by the most since 1928, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.

Republicans fell short in some states. In Illinois, Democrats kept control of the governor’s office and state legislature, even as they lost Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

As more seats are awarded to Sunbelt states like Texas, the Congress that convenes in 2013 will have fewer voices from the Northeast and Midwest.

Building New Coalitions

Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University economist, said the loss of Midwestern seats should encourage representatives of individual states to set aside their parochial interests and begin voting as a regional bloc.

“If we could get them together, they could push a common agenda,” he said.

New York lost ground in the House for the seventh consecutive reapportionment, dropping from 29 seats to 27. As recently as 1940, New York had 45 seats. In 2013, it will have as small a House delegation as it had in 1810.

The loss of a seat in Pennsylvania marks the ninth consecutive reapportionment where the state has lost. The gains for Texas are the biggest in the state’s representation since it went from six to 11 seats in the 1880 reapportionment.

Adding Seats

Florida recorded its 11th consecutive reapportionment win, while Arizona has now added at least one seat for the sixth time in a row. Proportionally, Iowa suffered the worst loss, as one of its five seats was taken away.

“It’s not going to be helpful,” said Steve Scheffler, a member of the Republican National Committee from Iowa. “You have one less advocate for the state’s concerns.”

Robert Groves, the census bureau’s director, said growth by region varied widely during the decade. The Northeast grew 3.2 percent and the Midwest grew 3.9 percent, compared to 13.8 percent in the West and 14.3 percent in the South.

Nevada led states with the biggest gain in population during the decade, at 35.1 percent, followed by Arizona with 24.6 percent, Utah at 23.8 percent, Idaho at 21.1 percent and Texas at 20.6 percent. Michigan was the only state to lose population, dropping 0.6 percent. The five states with the smallest growth rates were Rhode Island, 0.4 percent; Louisiana, 1.4 percent; Ohio, 1.6 percent; New York, 2.1 percent; and West Virginia, 2.5 percent.

“I kind of see it as a regional analogy to when people moved to the suburbs in the 1950s,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the non-partisan Brookings Institution in Washington. “It’s newer and it’s less expensive.”

The U.S. has the lowest median age of any of the Group of Seven nations, according to United Nations’ estimates for 2010. Youthfulness is one variable for future growth because younger people tend to have more children.

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net; Tim Jones in Chicago at tjones58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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