Electoral map gets a GOP tinge

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For years, the population center of the United States has been migrating from the snowy driveways and industrial towns of the Northeast and Midwest toward the warm skies and wide-open spaces of the South and West.

It is a shift that could change the political landscape for years to come.

On Tuesday, the Census Bureau rearranged the political map to account for population trends documented in this year's census, taking congressional districts from Democratic-leaning states such as New York and Massachusetts and adding them to Republican states such as Texas and Arizona.

The 2010 Census found that the American population had grown by about 9.7 percent, to 308,745,538 residents, since 2000. It was the slowest rate of growth since 1940.

The new numbers determined which states would gain and lose seats in the House of Representatives. Since the number of House districts is fixed at 435, reapportionment takes place every decade to ensure that they remain roughly equal in population.

The new map has the effect of transmitting political clout to a heavily Republican region that has steadily gained in population and influence.

Texas, for example, grew by 20 percent during the past decade. As a result, the Census Bureau assigned it four additional congressional seats. Arizona's population swelled by nearly 25 percent, leading to a gain of one seat.

The changes come at the expense of such Democratic strongholds as New York and Massachusetts and Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Of the 10 states that lost seats, eight backed Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

"Especially because of the 2010 election, Republicans are in a better place than they have been in decades," said Clark Bensen, a consultant with Polidata, a political data firm.

But there's a catch. Much of the population growth is attributed to Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic. As a result, Republican candidates won't necessarily have a lock on all of the seats created.

Hispanics accounted for about half of the population gains in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, said Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. More than half the newcomers to Texas are Hispanic, he added. In Georgia, African Americans and Hispanics contributed more than half the growth.

The new configuration does offer Republicans a clear, if modest, advantage in the next presidential election. The Republican-leaning states that won new congressional seats will gain the same number of votes in the Electoral College, which could give the Republican nominee an edge in 2012. Republicans could gain a six-vote advantage in the Electoral College. In 2008, Obama beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 192 electoral college votes.

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