Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The West Gains a Third of the New Congressional Seats

A total of twelve congressional seats shifted in the 2010 census reapportionment. The West gets four new seats – one each in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Washington. Although there is much discussion of the political meaning of this shift, in fact, it’s a small number out of the 435 total seats and it is not clear either party has a certain advantage in creating new seats.

Of course, polling and election history shows Democratic-leaning states are losing electoral votes and several Republican-leaning states, namely Texas, Utah and Arizona and the southern states of Georgia and South Carolina, are gaining electoral votes. This should make President Obama’s re-election a little more difficult in 2012. But, creating a surfeit of new partisan-leaning congressional districts is more difficult than just examining statewide election data.

The 1970s saw the beginning of high growth in the smaller western states outside of California. Arizona now has nine seats, up five since 1970. Washington has ten, an increase of three in the last forty years. Nevada went from a single seat in 1970 to four today. Utah just missed a seat in 2000 and now has four.

The Republican surge this year, which added 8 congressional seats in the West, picked them up in a number of swing seats. If the 2012 or subsequent wave, especially among independent voters, is away from Republicans, they could lose many of the 8 seats quickly.

Only the new seat in Utah has high likelihood to be Republican. In fact, in most western states Republicans will be looking to boost their support in newly won seats as much as trying to gain seats. In Arizona, the fastest growing population is Hispanic, and concentration or dispersion of that population may provide the most conflict among the four states’ redistricting efforts.

The two biggest winners this census are Florida and Texas; both have gained twelve seats each since 1970. Florida is up to 27 seats, and Texas with 36 is the second largest delegation after California, which has 53.

New York has lost twelve seats since 1970. In 1980, with 41 seats, New York had a larger delegation than California with its 38. This is the first time since statehood California hasn’t gained a congressional seat after a census.

Although the old industrial states tend to be Democratic, Republicans will be scrambling to head off losing seats as some Republican districts may be likely merger candidates. And, like in the West, Republicans will spend more time trying to pool newly won swing seats than add new seats.

See Gallup poll: All 10 states losing congressional seats tilt Democratic

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