Monday, January 8, 2007

Ongoing population shifts from the North to the Sun Belt states will benefit Republicans more than Democrats in future House races and could enlarge the Republican Party’s electoral count in presidential elections, political analysts say.

Analysts say Democrats have offset the Republicans’ Sun Belt advantage with gains in the Northeast and parts of the South and Southwest, but that the size of the migration by the end of this decade likely will give the edge to Republicans.

“I think on balance the Republicans will benefit from the larger number of seats in the Sun Belt region. They won’t get 100 percent of it, but more than the Democrats do,” said Merle Black, a longtime analyst of Southern politics at Emory University in Georgia.

Projections of the number of Americans moving from the Democrat-dominated Northeast to the more Republican-friendly Southern and Western states “show that seven congressional seats in 13 states have already changed at this point in the decade,” according to an analysis by Election Data Services, a firm that studies how population shifts affect redistricting changes under congressional reapportionment.

It forecasts a loss of House seats in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa and Louisiana, gains of one seat each in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, and a gain of two seats in Texas.

Another analysis shows an even larger “probable” shift of House seats from the North to the Sun Belt, according to Polidata, a Virginia-based demographic and political research firm.

Under these “probable changes,” 13 seats could shift among 19 states, with eight gainers and 11 losers. “All the gainers are in the South and West and all the losers are in the East and Midwest except Louisiana,” the Polidata study said.

Leading the “biggest gainers” would be Texas, with four additional seats. Polidata projects gains of two seats each in Florida and Arizona and one each in Georgia, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The biggest losers would be New York and Ohio, with two seats each. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Louisiana each would lose one.

Because each state’s electoral votes are based on its representation in Congress, the shift in House seats to the Sun Belt regions, where Republicans are strongest in presidential elections, would mean increased clout in the Electoral College, too.

“Overall, given a 2004 electoral vote of 286 [for President] Bush to 252 [for Sen. John] Kerry, the vote count based upon these 2010 projections would have been 292 Bush, 246 Kerry, a gain of six for the Republican ticket,” Polidata’s report said.

Independent analysts predict House seat gains in the Southwest and the South — which with 131 seats is the largest regional delegation in the country — but said Republican strength declined in the South and in the Northeast in the 2006 election.

The number of House seats for Southern Republicans fell in November from 82 to 77, Mr. Black said, while Democrats increased their number from 49 to 54. In the Northeast, a rash of Republican congressional losses from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania gave 68 House seats to Democrats and 24 to Republicans.

The House seat shifts will not take place until after the 2010 census, when states redraw congressional boundaries in time for the 2012 elections.

“We don’t really know the demographics that are driving the in-and-out migration in these states,” said political analyst Rhodes Cook. “Some of them could be more affluent white conservatives, but they might be Hispanics who tend to vote more Democratic.”

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