A Changing Census Tilts Toward the GOP

The demographic center of gravity in the U.S. continues to shift toward sunnier climes and away from the industrial Midwest and Northeast. The changes, as measured by the 2010 decennial census, could have far-reaching political consequences, with Southern and Western states gaining a net 11 seats in the House of Representatives, likely setting off redistricting battles across the country. Those gains will also take electoral votes away from Northeast and Midwest states that Barack Obama carried in 2008, a possible boost for Republicans in the 2012 Presidential race.

The census figures, released Dec. 21, show that the U.S. population has increased 9.7 percent since 2000, to 308,745,538, the slowest pace since 1930-1940. Eight states will gain and 10 will lose House seats. Of the eight gainers, five were won by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) when he was the 2008 Republican nominee. Obama carried 8 of the 10 states that lost seats. Among the states losing seats, only one, Louisiana, is in the South.

The states will now use the data to redraw political districts, sometimes pitting incumbents against each other. "It will set off an intense game of musical chairs," says Andrew E. Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "It's life or death for these guys."

Texas is the biggest winner, with a four-seat gain, while Ohio and New York are the biggest losers, dropping two seats each. As recently as 1940, New York had 45 seats. In 2013, it will have 27, the same as in 1810.

Republicans will have a redistricting edge because they gained state offices in the November elections. Reshaping congressional districts is done primarily by state lawmakers. Still, much of the population gain for states such as Texas, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona is the result of Hispanic growth. In 2008, Hispanics voted for Obama by a ratio of more than 2 to 1, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group.

The bottom line: New U.S. census data give Republicans an edge in redistricting, though Hispanic population growth could help Democrats.

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