The 2010 census forms are arriving in America's mailboxes. When the results are in they will show that America remains a nation on the move. People are flowing westward and southward over the last ten years as they have for generations.
For most of the past decade, the allure of space, affordable housing and economic opportunity - not to mention warmer weather - has brought people to the West and South, often at the expense of their northern and midwestern counterparts.
Though that movement slowed with the recent recession and housing bust, changes undergone since 2000 are still poised to alter the county's political landscape and touch off some heated battles. The next round of redistricting following the census will re-allocate congressional districts and electoral votes among the states.
Once again the South and West will gain some political clout while some districts in the north will vanish, taking influence along with them. If geography is indeed destiny, then America's future will be increasingly determined by the Sun Belt.
PART I: THE CHANGING MAP
Before tackling the political implications, let's take a look at the overall picture of population movements. The population of the U.S. has grown by around 9 percent since 2000, according to the most recent estimates released before the census. But it's lopsided growth.
While the Northeast grew only 3 percent and the Midwest just 4 percent, the South and West each registered a 13 percent growth rate over the decade. In raw population figures, the South has been the biggest gainer so far with 13 million people added. The growth has been spurred in large part by the Texas, which added four million people and grew at a whopping 19 percent, and Florida, whose population increased by 2.5 million.
While California led the West in raw population growth, the West's percentage growth has been spearheaded by Nevada and Arizona, which grew at an incredible 32 percent and 29 percent respectively. The bulk of that change, of course, occurred before the housing bust, at a time when real estate values soared and land was being developed at a breakneck pace.
The demographic changes are not limited to state of state to state migration, however. The relative youth of people in the Sun Belt could contribute to more long-term growth in the years ahead.
As Dr. Howard Hogan, the U.S. Census Bureau's Associate Director for Demographic Programs notes, the Pacific region is a little younger than the U.S. as a whole. Hogan suggested that in the long term, the growth trend in the west could be bolstered by more births as younger people begin to start families.
Immigration adds to this trend: the Western states have drawn a comparatively large portion and immigrants are often young people. Recent immigrants, those entering between 2000 and 2006, tended to be in their 20's. This is all set against the backdrop of an aging national populace.
Dr. Hogan shows that the number of Americans aged 65 to 74 years is expected to double from 20 million today to nearly 40 million, by 2030. On the other hand, the number of middle-aged people, 45 to 64, is flattening out and will stay around its current level of 80 million during that time frame.
The regional differences might have been greater still but for the recession slowdown toward the end of the decade. In past recessions, domestic migration continued unabated: job losses in the industrial Midwest fuelled rapid population gains in the Sun Belt. But the 2008-09 unraveling, because it was fueled by the housing bust concentrated in the West and South, forced unemployed workers to stay at home even in states with high rates of unemployment.
For instance the population loss in Michigan, which was suffering from the nation's highest unemployment, actually declined between 2008 and 2009. The U.S. Census Bureau recently showed that boom states of Florida and Nevada experienced negative net migration domestic migration between 2008 and 2009. - Though these dynamics did not negate the decade's overall gains, they did curtail the relative growth.
Within the west, there's a shifting balance of power as California loses relative influence to other western states. Since it joined the Union in 1850, and after each subsequent census, the Golden State has attracted enough new people to gain at least one Congressional seat.
It has grabbed the lion's share of all the House districts awarded to the western U.S. over these last generations. But for the first time in its history it may not gain another seat this year, as a result of the sluggish growth and a drain of residents. (It appears to have lost fewer people toward the end of the decade, though, which may save it from an unprecedented loss of a seat.)
Out-migration from California did not entirely begin with the recent recession. Among the largest state-to-state migration flows from 1995 to 2000 (even before the most recent census) were the hundreds of thousands of Californians leaving for Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Colorado. California's numbers that dominated the national in-state migration trends for the period. And more recently, a Pew Research study from 2008 identified what it called "magnet" and "sticky" states for 2005-2007 and also showed that California had more people moving out than in while Arizona and Colorado were on the list of states with a net of in-movers.
PART II: WHAT IT MEANS, AND THE SHIFTING INFLUENCE IN THE HOUSE AND ELECTORAL COLLEGE
The House of Representatives allocates representatives to each state according to the size of its population. The growth of southern and western states, therefore, has given rise to their political power over the years and will continue to do so.
Western states have steadily grabbed a greater share of the nation's 435 House seats after each census; their allotment has nearly doubled since World War II. The West grew from 11 percent of seats following the 1940 census to 23 percent after 2000's adjustment. In that same period, the Northeast and Midwest each shrank a quarter of their sizes, from 29 percent to 21 percent, and 32 percent to 24 percent, respectively.
These trends are likely to continue, based on our analysis of the most recent population estimates from the Census bureau in advance of the 2010 count.
The total number of House seats is capped by law at 435, and each state starts with one. The apportionment formula used to allocate seats essentially deals them out to states one at a time, until the remaining 385 are gone. With each available seat, the formula prioritizes states based on factors such as population and relative quantity of seats.
So as states grow and earn seats, they effectively draw them away from those who've lost population, and perhaps also from states which have grown, but done so more slowly.
All the states we can currently estimate to gain seats, having gained population relative to others over the decade, lie in the South or West, including big gainer Texas and Arizona. All those slated to lose seats are in the Northeast or Midwest. (Though it's still possible California could lose a seat too.)
|State||Possible loss (estimated)||State||Possible gain (estimated)|
|Illinois||-1||Arizona||+1 or 2|
|Michigan||-1||North Carolina||0 or +1|
|Minnesota||0 or -1||Oregon||0 or +1|
|New Jersey||-1||Texas||+3 or 4|
Presently, Ohio is the only state we can project to possibly lose more than one seat. Despite the highest unemployment rate in the nation, Michigan still stands to lose only one seat. Although population growth has been reinvigorated in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, the state is still expected to lose one seat.
Meanwhile, the big winner after 2010 looks to be Texas, which has continually gained seats since World War II, including a steady 3-seat pickup each census since 1970. Texas could grab another three this time, with an outside possibility of gaining a 4th seat.
The number will remain uncertain until the final 2010 census is complete; our projections are based on the current population estimates.
Electoral votes are shifted, too. Unlike the House, where district lines could determine which party gains advantage from a new apportionment, the presidential maps' winner-take-all formulas go directly to the totals. This means new electoral math, and perhaps a revised list of battlegrounds.
Voting differences by region are well-known even to casual political watchers: the Northeast is now solidly Democrat and often liberal (in fact, there are no GOP House members in New England at all) while the deep South and much of the Midwest remain strong Republican territory.
In the 2008 election, taking the groups of states in each region together, the East and Western states voted almost 60 percent for Obama. The South, meanwhile, went for McCain 54 percent to 45 percent.
The Democrats certainly seem to face a disadvantage due to the loss of electoral votes and congressional seats in Mid-Atlantic and industrial belt states, where they've done very well at the presidential and congressional levels.
These added electoral votes will create important new battlegrounds, while diminishing the significance of traditional swing states like Ohio or Pennsylvania. Republican strongholds may suffer a bit as rural America continues to exhibit declines, with Nebraska and Kentucky likely to lose electoral votes (and, on the congressional level, if Iowa loses a seat.)
Barack Obama, who won 365 electoral votes in 2008, may have only won 360 or 359 if the projected 2010 reapportionments were in place during the 2008 election.
But note that states that McCain won easily, like Texas, Utah, Arizona and Georgia, are in a position to gain. States that stumped for Mr. Obama, on the other hand, stand to get fewer aggregate gains. Mr. Obama won many of these states by - a small margin, meaning that they remain toss-up states and will be increasingly important battlegrounds in the near term.
|State||Possible gain (estimated)||2008 Presidential Winner||Margin of win||Current EV's||# House Dems Post-08||# House Reps Post-08|
|Arizona||+1 or 2||McCain||8%||10||5||3|
|N.C.||+0 or 1||Obama||1%||15||8||5|
|Oregon||+ 0 or 1||Obama||17%||7||4||1|
|Texas||+3 or 4||McCain||11%||34||12||20|
By comparison, the states slated to lose seats and electoral votes are, for the most part, reliably Democratic states, and by larger margins.
|State||Possible loss (estimated)||2008 Presidential Winner||Margin of win||Current EV's||# House Dems Post-08||# House Reps Post-08|
|California||-0 or -1||Obama||24%||55||34||19|
|Minnesota||-0 or -1||Obama||10%||10||5||3|
The expected changes allow us to consider how presidential electoral math might play out in years to come. With fewer votes coming out of many reliably Democratic states, old and newer battlegrounds can expect more clout in close races. Suppose, for example, in 2012 that Florida (assuming then 28 electoral votes - one new), North Carolina (assume 16 EV, one new), Virginia (13 EV), and Indiana (11 EV) were to swing back into the GOP column, as they were for most of the last 50 years. That would cut President Obama's electoral total based on 2008 wins to 292.
Republican wins in two other potential toss-up states, Iowa (at 6) and Colorado (9) - both carried by President Bush in 2004 - would leave either Ohio (assume 18 EVs) to decide the race, or else, make New Hampshire (4 EV) and New Mexico (5 EV) decisive. Republicans have won both these states in recent years. The latter case wouldn't be decisive under the old apportionment.
But how each of the states themselves will change as a result of demographic change remains an open question. We need not look further than 2008's election for illustration. The last ten years have shifted some previously one-party states into the battleground column. Last year's presidential race was a good example of this trend. States like North Carolina and Colorado became swing states not simply due to partisan re-alignment or young voters coming of age. Population shifts and state to state migration flows altered the makeup of the populace and the voter rolls.
When Barack Obama swung those places from red to blue in 2008, he was famously helped by registering thousands of new voters, especially in areas favorable to Democrats.
We've seen this internally in high-growth states like Colorado and Nevada, as well as Virginia and elsewhere, where the booms have been centered around urban areas and their suburbs. These states have drawn both higher-income professionals who've been trending Democratic over the decade, and suburbanites who often become an influential bloc of swing voters.
Within the states, plenty of battles will be fought over the shape of new districts and what remains of existing ones. In a nation continually growing and one the move, and geography determines representation to such a great extent, these population changes are of central importance not only in our communities but in our governance. They remind us how the patterns of the last decade can influence the next.
Anthony Salvanto is CBS News Elections Director. Mark Gersh is Washington Director, National Committee for an Effective Congress, and a CBS News Consultant.