In the past few days there has been a raft of stories in the political press warning of the potential harm population shifts from the blue states to the red states will have on the Democratic Party, both in its quest to win presidential elections as well as its ability to maintain control over the House in the decade to come. Donald Lambro, for one, writing in the conservative rag that is The Washington Times, explains under the headline "Population shift likely to boost GOP" that,
Ongoing population shifts from the North to the Sun Belt states will benefit Republicans more than Democrats in future House races and could enlarge the Republican Party's electoral count in presidential elections, political analysts say.
Analysts say Democrats have offset the Republicans' Sun Belt advantage with gains in the Northeast and parts of the South and Southwest, but that the size of the migration by the end of this decade likely will give the edge to Republicans.
Louis Jacobson, writing for the more non-partisan Washington paper Roll Call (sorry, subscription required), reports,
When Election Data Services late last month released projections of which states are poised to gain and lose Congressional seats based on the 2010 Census, Republicans cheered.
The numbers showed that GOP-leaning states in the Sun Belt continue to outpace the more Democratic Northeast and Midwest in population growth. But projecting whether the Republicans truly will gain ground after the post-2010 reapportionment requires a more micro-level look at the states in question.
According to the EDS, the states that are set to gain at least one seat after 2010 - if current demographic trends hold - are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Each voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004, and the GOP controls both the Legislature and the governorship in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Utah. The GOP also controls one chamber plus the governorship in Nevada.
The explosive population growth in traditionally Republican states coupled with the relatively lower rate of growth (and even decline in population, in some cases) in states that tend to back the Democrats, certainly could, in and of itself, redefine the national political environment in ways that make it more difficult for the Democratic Party to succeed. In particular, the prospect of growing electoral and congressional clout for states like Utah and Georgia, which both of which are among the 10 states that give President Bush his highest approval ratings, should cause real concerns for Democrats both inside and outside of Washington.
Nevertheless, it would be wholly improper for Democrats to embrace a defeatist mentality or even to become pessimistic about their chances in the next decade without keeping a number of things in mind. First, the people moving into these so-called "red states" are not necessarily similar demographically to the current residents. In fact in many cases these new voters are significantly more amenable to Democrats -- or at least less tied to the Republican Party -- than the current inhabitants. To take Texas as an example, the exploding growth of Hispanics is already having a tangible effect in both congressional and statewide elections, with Democrats picking up two seats in the state in 2006, one of which was clearly swung in the Democrats' favor as a result of increased support from Mexican-American voters, and incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry being held below 40 percent of the vote in a four-way race, including barely more than 30 percent among Latinos, who he actually lost to Democrat Chris Bell. If these trends hold, it's not inconceivable that the Democrats will be able to at least maintain their current number of Representatives from the state in the next decade and perhaps even have a serious chance at carrying the state in presidential elections in the future, which they haven't done in some 30 years. To take another example, in Arizona, Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano won a second term by close to 30 points and Democrats picked up two US House seats in 2006, so clear shifts within the electorate are already beginning to be seen. What's more, the redistricting process in the state is controlled by an independent commission, so even if the Republicans were to continue to control the legislature in the state and win back the governorship in 2010 they would not have the capacity to gerrymander their way to success.
A second equally important point to keep in mind is that the Democrats are solidifying their positions in blue states, not only in the Northeast but also in the Great Lakes region and along the Pacific Coast. Following the 2010 reapportionment, it's quite possible that they will be able to squeeze more Democratic seats out of states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and even New York, more than offsetting the loss of seats from states like Massachusetts. What's more, the changing political climate within individual states could move some like Ohio from being a pure swing state to one that has a Democratic lean (as perhaps presaged by overwhelming Democratic victories in the state's governor and senatorial races last fall).
In short, these population shifts, both in and of themselves but also taken in combination with other political changes around the country, should not necessarily worry Democrats about their future in the next decade. Rather in some ways, they present the Democrats with new opportunities to reshape the electoral map in their own favor to perhaps help them achieve a new political reality in the country.