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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Population Growth Red or Blue?

Chris Cillizza gets some grief in the comments section following his argument in WaPo that new census figures showing that 2004 red states are leading in population growth is good news for the GOP. Cillizza’s analysis of population trends fails to acknowledge that much of the population growth will come from disproportionate increases in the percentage of African American, Latino and out-state migrants, none of whom are likely to favor the GOP. Some of those commenting on Cillizza’s article put it this way:

When looking at the shift in population, it might be wise to consider who is shifting and to where they are shifting. My guess would be that you would find a lot of Democrats shifting from the Northeast to Florida, Georgia, N.C., etc. This will make the 2008 Election much less predictable than usual. (Gail Mountain)
Agree with Gail–this is an extremely specious and vacuous way of looking at these results. As usual, Chris, your republican slip is showing. Always looking for a ‘bright spot’ for your party. I have a feeling that just the opposite of your analysis is true — that those who are moving will simply be making red states bluer. (drindl)
Some radically presumptious analysis here!
Who says that the people who are moving to these states will vote republican? In fact recent gains for democrats appear to be from new voters in states that have traditionally been republican. Indeed, this may be REALLY bad news for the republican party! (dONHAH)
Please consider a follow-up that factors in ethnic and religion changes.It seems to me that Hispanics and immigrants may be as important as raw population numbers in determining the fate of the GOP.Thanks.(Paul Silver)

It goes on like this for more than 100 comments, providing an instructive lesson in what happens when one uses a static analysis to assess a dynamic situation. What is needed instead, is a more thoughtful analysis — Where is the growth coming from? Are Republicans reproducing like rabbits on viagra? How much of the Hispanic influx is permanent or transitory? Is the African American “reverse migration” to the south still strong?
Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in southern cities knows that they are thick with northeastern and midwestern expats. Are these folks Republican refugees or a broader cross-section of sun-seekers and those longing for a slower pace of life? Let’s discuss.

4 comments on “Is Population Growth Red or Blue?

  1. Ryan on

    I’d tend to agree with shai but would also caution about more worrisome, though perhaps counter-intuitive implications of this population shift. I’ve heard reports, although I can’t remember where (perhaps NPR?) in which politicians and demographers have noted that the country is actually becoming more, not less politically homogeneous. Conservatives and liberals are tending more and more to live in neighborhoods (and perhaps states) with residents that are more like them. Therefore I’d throw out the possibility that many of the snowbirds moving south are Republican/conservative leaning, hence the willingness to move to the south in the first place. They might prefer the family values and nascar culture that already exist there or maybe they’re moving for lower taxes and thus they are moving there to be amongst their own kind.
    I remember reading predictions in the 80s and 90s that Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina would be defeated because of all the population growth from the north to the state. It turned out at that many of the people moving into the state were conservative white northerners, not representative cross-sections of the states from which they came (based on exit polls).
    This is not to deny that there are many other groups such as Hispanics moving into fast growing red states too, in fact, doubtlessly at faster rates than northerners. But the trends I described above might play out here too. For example, if you look at exit polls it’s easy to see that Hispanics vote much more Republican in states like Georgia and Utah than states like New York and New Jersey. They may also be attracted to those who are politically and culturally like them.
    This may also be why Florida, despite so much heavy population growth from northern White baby boomers and non-Cuban Hispanics between 2000 and 2004, actually became more Republican on a state and national level.
    I don’t have a solution to this and do believe long-term trends favor Democrats in the country overall, but since our electoral college system is based on geography rathe,r than the popular vote for electing presidents I consider the trends very worrisome.

  2. vinroc31 on

    I personally don’t care about the south; let them have it. We won’t see a blue south in a presidential election for a long time. However, the growth in population in other red states (such as the mountain west) will favor the Dems. As a former New Yorker/Washingtonian who relocated to Denver in ’03, I see the shift happening and am very pleased to be a part of recent Dem success in CO. And, if the Dems play their cards right in ’08, CO’s 9 votes will go blue. Then all we need is 9 more . . . .

  3. Retired Catholic on

    With the demographic character of Sun Belt populaltion increases already sited, another factor in the mix is the fact that evangelicals seem to be slowing peeling off the GOP elephants hide, kind of like dandruff on a black shirt.

  4. shai on

    While it may be true that population shifts might just make red states more purple, the political implications may still be important for a while to come.
    In presidential elections, it’s hard to see Texas going for a Democrat for a long time, even if the state is slowly becoming more Democratic. This could be because even a massive influx of new Democrats is not enough to outweigh the already considerable advantage Republicans hold in the state. It could also be because new (potential) Democrats count in the census but do not vote, in some cases because they’re not citizens.
    Moreover, an effective gerrymander regime could easily mute the effects of a massive influx of Democrats, by sifting them into already heavily Democratic districts. Thus, Democrats could lose a House seat in the north but not gain it in the south.
    Finally, the effects filter all the way down to the low-level races. My wager is that all the new Democrats in the south and west will be less likely to run for and win dog catcher races, for a variety of reasons: for example, they may not be qualified (too young or not citizens), or they may not have the community ties to understand how politics works in their area or to garner a base of support. Transient Democrats are at a relative disadvantage compared to stable Republicans.
    I could easily be proven wrong about any of these scenarios, and I certainly hope to be wrong. But I think that we should not rest on our laurels just because population gains in red states are due to Democrats moving in.


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