Of course, no one knows what the political environment will be in 29 months, but the 2010 Census is certain to change the Electoral College math in a way that will favor the Republicans. Should the president roll up the popular vote majority that he did in 2008, the new scorecard for 2012 won’t make a difference come Election Day. But if the election is as close as it was in 2000 and 2004, the changes that will come because of the population redistribution captured by the decennial national head count could be a big deal.
The process of redrawing the congressional maps in each state is done by some combination of the state legislature and governor. In states where either the Democrats or Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship, the maps reflect the most brutal kind of political partisanship. In those states with split control, the redistricting fights have historically been the ultimate game of “Let’s Make a Deal.” But, no matter how the congressional district maps are drawn, the number of a state’s Electoral College votes is equal to its number of members of the U.S. House and its two U.S. senators.
In the last half-century, the nation’s internal population migration from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and Southwest as well as the Pacific Coast has resulted in considerable changes in the Electoral College math. Because the Republicans have, and are likely to continue to do better in the Sun Belt states than the Democrats, they have benefited from this population movement over time.
The best guess – and it is more than a guess since reasonably accurate population projections for the states are no secret – is that the following states are likely to gain one seat in Congress and one electoral vote: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. Texas will gain at least two and probably three. One other state is likely to gain a seat, but it is not clear at this point which one it will be.
Five of those states, including Texas, went for Republican John McCain in 2008, but all except Washington backed Mr. Bush in the close 2000 and 2004 elections – an indication that if 2012 is as close as it was in those two years, this year’s census could give the GOP nine of the 10 votes.
Conversely, Ohio is expected to lose two congressional seats and Electoral College votes while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are expected to lose one each. President Obama carried all of those states in 2008 except Louisiana.
Keep in mind these are estimates and the numbers might be off here or there, but there is no doubt about the overall trend. The upcoming changes don’t mean that President Obama won’t get re-elected. They do, however, provide the Republicans with a slight plus that could make all the difference in a close race.