Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Political Implications of Demographic Shifts

In 2008 pundits said that the Republican Party was doomed. Then with the election results in 2010 many of the same pundits are saying the Democratic Party is doomed. This view has been compounded by people doing naïve analyses of the electoral vote changes resulting from the 2010 census. However, a closer look at these demographic trends yields a picture more favorable to Democrats than the commonly expressed interpretation would (Here is a map of population changes by county that might make for a good reference for this discussion).

The 2010 census revealed a shift in population from the Northeast to the South and West. With one exception, Michigan, all US states gained population between 2000 and 2010. But the size of those population gains has been higher in the South and West than in the North and East. This has led to a shift in the apportionment of congressional representation and Electoral College seats that seems to favor states that usually vote for Republicans. For example, eight states (AZ, FL, GA, NV, SC, TX, UT, and WA) gained congressional seats. Of those, Obama won three (FL, NV, WA) and two of those, FL and NV, are notoriously closely fought in most elections. On the other side of the equation, ten states lost congressional seats (IL, IA, LA, MA, MI, MO, NJ, NY, OH, and PA). Of those, Obama won all but two, LA and MO. Many people are taking this to indicate a shift in favor of Republicans for 2012 and beyond.

Two factors undermine the argument that the Republicans are going to clean up as a result of this shift: the increasing Hispanic population and the increasing urbanization of the South and West. Hispanics make up an enormously disproportionate share of the population growth in the highest growth regions of the country. This is politically relevant because Hispanics are also much more likely to vote Democrats and Republicans. This trend is showing few signs of changing as the Republican party becomes more and more associated with anti-immigrant, nativist attitudes and policies. Most worrying for Republicans, Texas, their great bastion of electoral votes, is becoming increasingly Hispanic at a much faster rate than the country as a whole. This could mean that even as Texas adds 4 Electoral College votes (!), it could be moving away from being completely safe for Republicans and towards something more like Florida where both parties can hold out hope of a win (I’m not saying this is going to happen overnight, just that this is the direction things are moving in Texas). Most of this has been well covered in the mainstream media. And of course the low rate of voter registration among Hispanics mutes this effect somewhat.

The effect of urbanization is perhaps much more important and has gotten much less attention. Urbanization is happening in both the high growth and low growth parts of the country. This is politically relevant because voters in urban areas are much more likely to vote for Democrats than are rural voters. For example, in Ohio, it used to be the rule that the Cleveland metropolitan area voted for Democrats and the less densely populated Central Ohio area was a Republican bastion. As the population of Cleveland declined and that of Columbus rose, many Republicans saw reason to believe that Ohio was becoming a solidly Republican stronghold. However, as Columbus grew it became increasingly prone to vote for Democrats and for the last several election cycles the county around Columbus has emerged as a safely Democratic bastion within Ohio even as Cleveland's influence on statewide results has declined. To link this with the discussion above, it's worth noting that the Hispanic share of the overall population of Franklin County (in which Columbus is located) has increased by 129% and the African American share of the population increased by 29% while the share of Franklin county that is "White" declined by 2%. That cannot be good news for an increasingly xenophobic and anti-urban Republican party.

Two examples of how urbanization impacts the population shift can instructive. Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the country but it’s not the rural areas of Utah causing that growth. Rather it is booming metropolitan area centered on Salt Lake City that is driving this growth. Utah is going to get another congressional seat (and Electoral College vote). And it is also true that Utah is overwhelmingly Republican in its voting history. That may mean that Utah’s extra electoral vote will likely go to Republicans for the foreseeable future. However, the congressional seat will likely have to lead to more representation for urban voters in Salt Lake City. Because the newly drawn districts in Utah will have to have roughly the same population within them and since most of the new population is concentrated in and around Salt Lake City, it will be hard to avoid, even with gerrymandering contortions, either creating an entirely new urban district or make several existing districts significantly more urban. So even in Utah, perhaps the safest state in the country for Republicans, the population shifts may pose some hard choices for Republicans and some opportunities for Democrats. When one considers that a lot of the population growth in Texas is not only Hispanic but concentrated in urban areas, like Houston, that are already starting to trend Democratic, one starts to see the fly in the demographic ointment for Republicans.

On the other side of the equation we have Iowa losing a congressional seat and an electoral vote. However, within that state, the population is becoming more urban (at least by Iowa standards). Most of the rural counties in the state are losing population while most of the population growth is concentrated in the relatively urban counties around Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Iowa City, and Davenport. The new plan for the new districts has been proposed and is likely to pass. It combines the district in rural SW Iowa with the district around Des Moines. This new district would be the home district of the long standing incumbent Democrat who has represented Des Moines for several terms. The plan also shifts boundaries of the districts in such a way that the two Republicans who had represented two rural districts in NW and SW Iowa are now both residing in a single rural district in NW Iowa. At the same time, the boundary line between the two districts in the more urban eastern part of the state was shifted so that the two Democrats who represent those two districts are now both residing in the same district. One of those two Democrats lives very close to the boundary and has announced his intention to move to the other side of the boundary and take up residence in what would otherwise be a district with no incumbent, most of which had been part of his old district. The result is that while Iowa is losing a seat, it will most likely be a Republican who gets eliminated. A similar process is likely taking place in Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Only in Michigan and Ohio where large urban areas are in serious decay (Detroit and Cleveland) could there be some serious deviation from this effect.

America's population is shifting to the South and West, traditional strongholds of Republicans and conservatism. However, as it makes this shift, the American population is becoming more urban and less "White." The result of all of this could be that while the Republicans will see a short term advantage in the Electoral College, they will see a short and especially a long term disadvantage in Congress. And even the short term advantage in the electoral college may prove difficult to realize for Republicans as the vote rich, and once safely Republican, Florida becomes increasingly likely to vote for Democrats as its population also becomes more urban and more (non-Cuban) Hispanic.


USWest said...

RBR, thanks for the analysis of this. Of course, campaign managers will be watching this closely and using it to their benefit.

There are factors beyond districting and population shifts that may affect the way people vote. These are indicators, but necessarily predictors. After all, not all Hispanics or Blacks, are liberal, either are all Democrats. My overall sense, and I have no data to back this up, is that the country is getting a bit more conservative (not necessarily Republican) across the board. So it will depend in the end how candidates address issues near and dear to these special groups and how many voters they can register. States like Michigan are trying to make it harder for new voters to register. So . . .

The rise of the "Tea Party" is having a disproportional effect on the electorate in general, and more specifically on the Republican Party. The Tea Party has temporarily displaced Evangelicals as the big influence on the Republicans largely due to the emphasis on the economy. The Tea Party seems to be pushing the Republicans further right, and that shifts the center accordingly. The Democrats are being moderated by the rise in western states of Blue Dogs.

I am wondering how cuts in farm subsidies will affect all of this, if at all. Ag subs go straight to Republican dominated, conservative districts. The GOP budget plan would dump $30 bil of them. Democratic support for the 2008 Farm bill didn’t seem to help them win elections either. So both parties may be more willing to cut subsidies. This cut may push some producers out of the market completely. Some will shift to different crops, others will just quit.

See, my CA county is interesting because it is represented by a mix of Republicans and Blue Dogs. My district, which is more urban than the areas around it, always elects a Blue Dog.
It's a heavy farming community in a county whose top 20 AG businesses got $28 mil in subsidies in 2009. The community has high church attendance and a family orientation with high property ownership rates. It's 42% Hispanic and education and health care are the second largest employers after the Agribusiness and Ag related manufacturing. Put that together, and it makes sense that Blue Dogs would represent it.

Between 2000 and 2010, the county has seen a 15% increase in population, much of it from the liberal Bay Area. People wanted cheap housing and were willing to take long commute times to get it. If the Bay Area transplants are liberalizing (white, upper middle class professionals who should tend toward voting) I’m not seeing it. The election results haven’t changed with their arrival.

High speed rail will change it all ( The new rail system will go right through the center of the Central Valley linking it to San Francisco and LA. Commute times between the Bay Area and my part of the Central Valley will be cut in half to just over an hour. The commute to LA will go from 4 to under 2 hours. This will speed up urbanization of the rural areas and take up old farmland. Those farm jobs will have to be replaced and community leaders are going to look for non-polluting industries that require a lot of space- more medical, more education, and maybe even silicon! More Bay Area transits are going to come over the hill and vise versa. Will they bring their politics with them?

So the census figures give us only one window to look out of. But then again, speculation is all part of politics and we will use whatever tools we have to play.

Raised By Republicans said...

The Blue Dog Democrat in your coastal quasi urban district is a lot more liberal than the frothing at the mouth conservative Republicans in the full on rural districts with shrinking populations.

But you are right, demographics are only one factor - and a crude one at that - at work here. Nevertheless there is a lot of misleading "conventional wisdom" being tossed around on the airwaves these days.

USwest said...

The representative of my coastal quasi- urban district is not a Blue Dog. He is pretty squarely liberal and in a safe seat.

The inland, rural distract where I am now registered to vote, is represented by a Blue Dog, safe seat. And yes, even he is more liberal than a foaming at the mouth conservative. But I look at the hard core foamers as either crazy or mostly theatrics.

To support RBR's point, my Blue Dog rep supported Health Care Reform and is in favor of tax breaks for solar energy. He loves the high speed rail idea (unlike his conservative congressional college from further south who wanted to kill it), and will probably not endorse Ryan's budget plan.

But that is a California Democrat for you. Even our Republicans are more moderate than the average.

Raised By Republicans said...

Sorry, US West, I misread your reference to the district.

I've lived near (if not actually been represented by) some genuine foaming at the mouth right wingers. Steve King (R-IA) for example is an absolute nut job and I take him at his word that he is sincere in his idiocy.

USwest said...

That's the thing, the nuts are sincere. Think about how scary that is!

What I can't figure out is if we are brilliant or just plain lucky to sane. I only half mean that in jest.

So many people in this country go out and vote against their interests, it amazes me. They support these foamers. So I am left wondering if there is just an over abundance of crazies supporting crazies.Republican budget cuts have left too many of the crazies out of the asylums.

Must be the water. It's gotta be something in the water.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Must be the water. It's gotta be something in the water."

Yep.... pesticides.