After the beating the Republican Party took in the 2006 midterm elections and the projections that Democratic majority will increase in the Senate in 2008, the Republican Congressional delegation is in need of some good news.
I am not projecting some great groundswell for Republican candidates, but I do believe the first elections after reapportionment in 2012 will help the Republicans.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution requires that every 10 years the United States undergo a census to count every resident. The purpose of the census is clear: Count up every person in order to figure out how many House seats (and thus Electoral College votes) each state gets. And then use this data to redraw Congressional districts so that every district in each state has approximately the same number of people. This is, of course, necessary because population growth does not occur equally across the board. And estimates done by Polidata for the 2008 edition of the Almanac of American Politics show that there have been some massive population shifts since the 2000 Census. Regrettably because of redistricting in Texas and Georgia, these states cannot be included in calculations.
There is a very clear pattern over the five intervening years between the Census Bureau’s data from 2000 and Polidata’s estimates for the population of each Congressional district on July 1, 2005: Republican districts have seen their population sky rocket while Democratic districts have seen small amounts of growth.
From 2000 to 2005, the average Republican district has increased its population by 47,517 people or 7.4 percent while the average Democratic district has only seen an increase in population of 16,460 people or 2.6 percent.
Of the 177 Republican districts included in the study, only 10 have seen a decrease in population (5.6 percent of Republican districts). Compare this with Democratic districts: Of the 213 Democratic districts, a whopping 59 have seen their population decline. Between 2000 and 2005, 27.7 percent of districts that Democrats now represent after the 2006 elections have seen their population decline. Of the 25 fastest growing districts, only three are Democratic while of the 25 districts that have lost the most population, only one is Republican.
Overall, the population of the United States is increasing and Democratic districts show this; but the problem is that Democratic districts are not growing as fast on average.
The reasons for this population decline are somewhat unclear. Surely the relationship is not causal — people are not so disturbed by being represented by a Democrat that they are moving out of Democratic districts in order to be represented by Republicans. As much as people promised to flee the country to Canada if President Bush were reelected, I don’t know of anyone who actually kept that promise. It seems even more unlikely that people are moving because of who represents them in the House. So as anyone who has taken Intro Stats could tell us, this is clearly a case of a spurious relationship — there is another variable at work.
Two possible explanations are continued urban flight and the growth of the Southwest.
For decades, people have been moving out of urban centers into suburbs and now exurbs. Urban centers are more likely to be represented by Democrats than suburbs and exurbs.
Secondly, the Southwest is growing rapidly and Midwestern, industrial strongholds that Democrats used to be able to count on are either losing people or not growing as quickly as they use to.
The outcome is clear. Republicans are coming to represent more and more people in the House. This makes 2011 a very important year. When the Census Bureau releases results from the 2012 Census, control of reapportionment boards will be empowered to shape Congress for the next five elections to the House. In states with partisan boards, whichever party controls the board will have the ability to create districts that maximize their party’s control. This makes elections for a variety of often-forgotten positions vitally important between now and 2011.
Whatever happens there will almost certainly be at least one beneficiary — the GOP delegation to the House of Representatives. Due to population shifts and reapportionment, 2012 is already shaping up to be a good year for Republicans.
Geoff Buller is a junior in Branford College.