Remember last year, when pundits declared that the 2008 elections were proof of the South's waning hold on national politics?
That didn't jibe with our analysis at Facing South. We showed that there was evidence not only of short-term political change in the South (one-third of the region's Electoral College votes went to President-elect Obama), but an important long-term trend: the South's political clout is growing, thanks to burgeoning population growth that will translate into more Electoral College votes and Congressional seats after the 2010 Census.
We won't know exactly how many seats the South will gain until the Census wraps this December. But we have a good idea thanks to the Census Bureau's latest state population estimates, which came out last month.
Using those estimates, Election Data Services projects that Southern states will gain six Congressional seats and Electoral College votes, mostly at the expense of states in the Northeast and Midwest.
Using several different projection models, EDS concludes:
Overall, the new 2009 estimates show that ten congressional seats in 17 states have already changed at this point in the decade [...]. Seven states -- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington -- would each gain a seat and Texas would gain three seats if the U.S. House of Representatives were reapportioned with census population estimates for July 1, 2009.
Drilling down into the data a little further, some interesting questions and scenarios remain:
* How big will Texas get? Texas will be the biggest gainer, but by how much? EDS conservatively estimates the Lone Star state will pick up three Congressional seats/Electoral College votes. But a projection based on more recent population growth -- which has stayed high in Texas while other states like Florida and North Carolina have leveled off -- shows it gaining four.
* Will troops mean gains for North Carolina? Fast-growing NC has been a top contender for picking up a seat after 2010. But EDS says "all six models now show the state will just miss gaining an additional seat next year." But there's a big wild card: None of the EDS projections account for military personnel stationed overseas -- a major factor in military-friendly North Carolina, whose growing bases helped the Tar Heel state gain a seat in 2000 over Utah.
* National surprises? Changing population trends are creating question marks in other parts of the country. Oregon, once considered a shoo-in for gaining a seat, now appears out of the running. California was projected to lose a seat last year, but now appears safe. Growth has stalled in Arizona and Nevada, but they're still safe to gain a seat each, maybe two for Arizona.
And then there's Louisiana. With the five-year anniversary of Katrina approaching, all of EDS' projections show the state losing a Congressional seat.
There will likely be a few surprises after the 2010 Census count has wrapped. But the broader trend is clear: a shift in population and political power to the South and West.
You can read the full EDS report here [pdf].