No Locks in Unstable Times

by David A. Bositis, Ph.D.
originally published in the National Journal’s Expert Blogs

Despite the Republicans’ clear and substantial advantage in the state legislatures and among Governors, they most certainly will not emerge from the 2010 round of redistricting with a lock on the U.S. House. While David Wasserman may be correct and there will be 50 U.S. House districts where Republicans benefit from redistricting (as opposed to only 15 for the Democrats), that doesn’t really mean much. It’s not just that 85 percent of U.S. population growth between 2000-2010 came from minority group members, it’s more that at the present time, we are living through an extremely unstable political period. In the last three federal election cycles, more than 120 U.S. House districts have shifted from one party to the other; that’s an average of 40 per election. Some marginal gains for the GOP in the redistricting process is not going to translate into stable control.

It’s worth remembering that the Republicans had the partisan edge following the 2000 Census, especially if you include the Tom DeLay engineered Texas remap, and the Bush DOJ Civil Rights Division lawyers who thought the Voting Rights Act was all about protecting white voters’ rights. Despite those advantages, the Democrats took back the U.S. House in 2006–only a few years after Delay had secured a GOP lock with the new Texas map.

Of course, a slightly longer perspective yields a more favorable view for the Democrats–assuming the GOP continues to alienate everyone who is not a southern white conservative. Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic and Asian-American populations increased by 43 percent, the African American population by 12 percent, and the nonHispanic white population by only one percent. Looking at 2010 Census figures for a few key states shows the significance of those national numbers. Texas is now a majority-minority state, and between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population there increased by 42 percent and the African American population by 24 percent. Florida’s Hispanic population increased by 57 percent and its African American population by 28 percent. For me, a real eye-opener was Georgia. Georgia’s small Hispanic population almost doubled, but more important, it’s large African American population increased by about 26 percent. NonHispanic whites are now a smaller proportion of Georgia’s population than is the case in Florida.

There demographic shifts are not going to cause a dramatic political shift in the short term, largely due to the youth of the minority population. But in the intermediate term, if I were going to take a short position in the futures’ market, I’d be shorting the GOP.

David A. Bositis, Ph.D., who has been at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies since 1990, is a voting rights and redistricting expert.

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