The South is solidly Republican right now. It might not be that way in 10 years.

The South is Republican territory. Everyone knows this.

Except that the the demographic problems the Republican party is facing in the country at large will likely be felt even more acutely in the South -- turning an area that was/is considered off limits to Democrats into a genuinely competitive region over the next two decades.

From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population doubled (or more) in nine states. Eight of them -- Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee -- were in the South. In South Carolina, the Hispanic population surged almost 150 percent in the last decade, the fastest growth rate in the country. In Alabama, the Hispanic population grew by 145 percent -- the second fastest in the country.

This map -- courtesy of the Census Bureau -- shows the Hispanic population as a percentage of each county in the U.S..  While it's clear that the Southwest remains the place where Hispanics are most congregated, the growth in the South is also clear.


Image courtesy of the Census Bureau

Now, consider where the Hispanic vote stands nationally.   After George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, John McCain dipped to 31 percent in 2008.  Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012.

The struggles of the last two presidential nominees to compete for the Hispanic vote has already had very real impacts on the electoral map.  New Mexico, which Bush won in 2004 and had been considered a swing state for several cycles, is now a safe Democratic state at the presidential level -- largely due to the state's significant Hispanic population (42 percent of the state's total population) and Republicans' inability to win that vote. Arizona is widely expected to come onto the swing state map in 2016 for the same reason. Ditto Texas -- although that state's growth patterns likely mean this won't happen until 2020 (or later).

That change in the southwest could well be an indicator of where the south will head in the next decade or two. Of the 10 closest states by percentage in the country in 2012, three  -- Florida, North Carolina and Virginia -- are in the south. More importantly, at least for the purposes of this discussion, is that three of the ten next closest states -- Georgia (12th), South Carolina (18th) and Mississippi (20th) -- are also in the south.

South Carolina is particularly instructive as it relates to the growth of the Hispanic population in the south and how it could well make the state competitive over the next 20 years. In 1988, George H.W. Bush won the Palmetto State by 24 points over Michael Dukakis.  In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the state by 11 points over President Obama.  Ditto Georgia. In 1988, Bush won the state by 20 points; Romney carried it by only eight in 2012.  While these gains can't be solely attributed to the growth of the Hispanic population -- candidates, national environment etc. all matter -- it is a factor in and one that will only grow in future elections.

Now, it's worth noting that for all of the growth of the Hispanic population, they remain a relatively small chunk of the region's population. Hispanics comprise 16 percent of the population of the south -- a number that is slightly misleading due to the inclusion of Texas where Latinos represent 32 percent of the overall population.  In none of the eight southern states where the Hispanic population doubled is it now greater than nine percent of the state's overall population. It's also worth pointing out that the Hispanic community remains not only a very young one but also one that that continues to underperform its population when it comes to registering to vote -- and actually casting ballots.

In short, you're not likely to see South Carolina on any swing state maps in 2016. But demographics are destiny, and the growth in the Palmetto State -- as well as much of the rest of the south -- is in a community where Republicans won barely one in every four votes in 2012. That's a worrisome reality for the GOP -- and speaks to how demography is re-shaping the national political map in ways that are potentially quite problematic for Republicans.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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