Monday, December 20, 2010
The Census Bureau announces its official tally of the U.S. population on Tuesday, and the results will have big implications on the makeup of Congress — and who will be our next president.
The census is more than demographics. First and foremost, it's about politics. The Founding Fathers put it right at the top of the Constitution, Article 1, Section 2, which says, "Representatives ... shall be apportioned among the several states ... according to their respective numbers."
To guide that apportionment, Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, says the nation's founders "decided that we needed a census each decade, so that we could change the lower chamber of the national legislature to reflect where the people are."
Brace has already crunched the numbers based on some preliminary data that the Census Bureau has released.
"Upwards of 17 to 18 states, probably at a minimum, will see a change in the number of congressional districts and representatives they get," Brace says. "Some of them will be losing seats, and if you're in other states, you'll be gaining seats."
Perhaps the biggest winner, according to Brace's calculation, is Texas, which "will probably be gaining at least three and maybe four seats."
Other likely winners in the reapportionment sweepstakes include Florida, which could get two additional seats in the House, along with a handful of other Southern and Western states that are likely to gain one additional seat.
But those states' gains come at the expense of other states.
New York and Ohio, for instance, each stand to lose two House seats, based on Brace's early calculations. Many other Northern and Midwestern states stand to lose a single seat. It's not so much that these states are losing population as they haven't kept pace with the growth rates of the others.
And there are some anomalies. It looks like California will not gain an additional seat this time — the first time that's happened since it achieved statehood. And Louisiana stands to lose a seat to Texas as a result of the exodus after Hurricane Katrina.
Good News For The GOP
You've probably noticed — if you follow politics at all — that the states gaining seats tend to vote Republican, while those losing seats tend to be Democratic or swing states. Political science professor Ross Baker of Rutgers University says Tuesday will be a good news day for the GOP.
"I think we're going to see the likelihood of more Republican representatives being elected in the states that have been awarded new seats," Baker says.
And Republicans have positioned themselves to take advantage of their apportionment gains by wining control of the governorship and state legislatures that will draw the boundaries for many of these districts. In states losing seats, that means a couple of Democratic incumbents will likely be tossed into the same district, leading to a game of political musical chairs.
The effects of reapportionment will also be felt in the 2012 campaign for the White House. That's because the number of electors each state has in the Electoral College is based on the number of representatives it has.
So a shift in power from blue states to red due to reapportionment could make it easier for the Republican nominee — and make President Obama's path to re-election a bit more complicated.
"It wouldn't be a wild guess to say David Plouffe, the man the president has chosen to be the overall field marshal of the 2012 campaign, has got his pocket calculator out and is figuring out exactly what they're going to need and where they're going to need it," Baker says.
Tuesday's census figures may well be challenged in court by states that stand to lose seats and feel that they were robbed. But the Census Bureau has prevailed in past legal challenges, and officials expect it will again.