Demographic trends can change over a decade, and the 2020-22 period was unusual, columnist Michale Barone says
Reports of the death of the Republican Party continue to be premature.
You’ve heard the litany, often from reporters and commentators who never liked Republicans and, lately, from others who can’t stomach former President Donald Trump. And they’ve got something of a point. Republicans have lost four of the last seven presidential elections and won fewer popular votes than Democrats in six of the seven. Republicans are no longer competitive in the nation’s largest state, California, which they carried in nine of 10 elections from 1952 to 1988, during what political analyst Sean Trende calls the “Eisenhower alignment.”
Republican core constituencies then were white college graduates and affluent suburbanites — groups that started trending Democratic in the 1990s and have become solidly Democratic since Trump was nominated in 2016.
Of course, if you’ve been following political demographics more closely than most people do, you know there are countervailing trends. Noncollege white people have been trending Republican since around 2000 and especially since 2016. Noncollege Hispanic people and black people seem to be headed their way, too.
Moreover, as the New York Times’ Ross Douthat points out, Republicans have won the popular vote for House in four of the seven elections starting since 2008, and they won a majority of seats in a fifth (because Democrats’ 2012 popular vote margin was due to heavy turnout for President Barack Obama in black-majority seats).
But there may be better news for Republicans in the long run. They benefited marginally from the reapportionment of House seats (and, therefore, electoral votes) following the 2020 census. Moreover, they stand to make much bigger gains in the census in 2030.
That’s the news from the American Redistricting Project’s forecast, based on extrapolations from 2022 Census Bureau estimates. ARP shows California, which gained seats in every census from 1850 to 2000 and lost just one seat in 2020, losing five seats in 2030. It shows New York losing three seats and Illinois two seats.
This reflects large-scale flight from our four most popular metropolitan areas, and from what are three of the most heavily taxed states, starting in the pandemic year (the 2020 census was taken as of April 1, when that flight was about to begin) and continuing as lockdowns were eased in the first half of 2022.
It also shows large-scale flight to low-tax states, with Texas and Florida each projected to gain four House seats in 2030 and Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Delaware one each.
What would such shifts do to the political balance? Take the 2016 and 2020 elections, in both of which the electoral votes were based on the 2010 census. Trump carried 25 states and one electoral vote in Maine in both elections, whereas Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden carried 19 states and the District of Columbia in both. Five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and one electoral vote in Nebraska switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020.
In 2016, the balance between the consistently Trump and consistently Democratic electoral votes was precisely even, 232-232. The 2020 reapportionment would have changed that just slightly to 235-231, with the switching states dropping from 74 to 72 electoral votes.
But by applying the ARP’s 2030 estimates, you get a different picture. The consistently Trump states would have 247 electoral votes, just 23 short of a majority, while the consistently Democratic states would have just 219. The switching states would stay at 72.
Looking at just the 10 largest states, which account for a majority of the nation’s population, the consistently Trump states would have 114 electoral votes, the Democratic states just 91 and the switching states 50. And obviously, there would be a significant partisan shift in the House of Representatives toward Republicans.
This future isn’t inevitable. Demographic trends can change over a decade, and the 2020-22 period was unusual. Still, those empty office spaces and rising crime rates in Manhattan, Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area suggest that these states are still bleeding House seats and electoral votes to the likes of Florida and Texas.
Over time, politics tends to balance out. Republicans won the combined popular vote for president in the 10 elections of Trende’s Eisenhower period, 52% to 45%, average margin, but in the 21 House elections in that stretch, Democrats won the popular vote 53% to 46%.
Since then, in the current ideologically polarized period, things have gotten closer. Over eight presidential elections, Democrats have won the popular vote 49% to 45%, but Republicans edged Democrats in House popular vote 48.2% to 48.1%. Bottom line: Don’t look for either party to disappear any time soon.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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