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New Census Data to Shape Future Elections

December 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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New Census figures reveal a growing U.S. population and changes to congressional districts around the country. Judy Woodruff discusses the new numbers' role in redistricting the electoral map with David Chalian and Stuart Rothenberg.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, as promised, to the politics of the census. And, for that, we are joined by NewsHour political editor David Chalian and Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report.

So, we have heard Robert Groves say that this means that there are 12 districts moving around, a number of states affected.

David Chalian, what — I mean, what happens now to these numbers? What does it look like?

DAVID CHALIAN: Well, this is the firs step of the process, right, learning the apportionment of how they go, and then comes the actual redistricting.

In the spring now, what will happen, Judy, is that state legislatures will start dividing up, literally drawing maps. And this is a cottage industry in politics. Partisans on both sides now prepare literally block by block to try to get their voters in to a district as they redraw these districts. And in some of these states where they have lost seats, you know, you’re going see some members get squeezed out. You’re going to see incumbents vs. incumbents.

And in areas where they have gained seats, there are going to be real battles about which voters to bring into that new seat, so that it falls either into, you know, a Democrat or Republican hands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu, let’s talk about what this map looks like, which states picked up and which states lost. And what do you draw from that? And, again, we have a graphic to show our viewers on that.

STUART ROTHENBERG, editor and publisher, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, as Robert Groves indicated, you take the big picture, and you see the Northeast is losing congressional districts. We’re talking about New England, Massachusetts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Those are the green on this map.

STUART ROTHENBERG: The green, right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mm-hmm.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Whether it’s Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, then going over to the Great Lakes states, Michigan, Illinois, those states vote disproportionately Democratic in national politics.

Now, as David suggested, we’re going to be into the internal phase now, state by state. And there are — different parties control different states and have different opportunities to maximize a new district or to protect districts that Republicans won that were unexpected, that they weren’t expected to win.

But, when you look at the big picture here, the Democratic states are losing congressional districts. That means they will lose Electoral College votes in 2012 and beyond. And the Southern states that typically vote more Republican, that are — typically are more conservative, they’re gaining congressional districts and they will gain Electoral College votes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, there are also some interesting things going on here, as we heard Mr. Groves say, with regard to ethnic minorities, especially the Latino population, in this country. So, is this an unmixed blessing for Republicans, or not?

DAVID CHALIAN: I think, as Stu was just saying, I think you give the edge here to the Republicans just on that large picture. But I do think that story can be overwritten to some degree.

And I think you do get more of a mixed picture. Take Texas, for example, right? Biggest gain, right? They’re going to pick up four seats here. But two of those seats very likely are going to be drawn to be minority-majority seats, that it will be largely Hispanic districts. That may tend more to the Democrats.

So, there — that might just be two Democratic seats and two Republican seats that get added in Texas, no advantage to one party over the other there. So, I do think, as you look at this state by state, it’s not some huge trove of new seats for the Republicans, though you do see , in looking at the larger picture, a little bit of an edge here for the Republican Party.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And there’s another element to this.

Democrats control the redistricting, the reapportionment process in Massachusetts, but the entire Massachusetts delegation is Democratic. They can’t draw a Republican out of the district because there is no Republican. On the other hand, you have Ohio, where the Republicans…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But somebody is going to lose there.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Somebody is going to — but the Democrats control the process, and a Democrat is going to have to lose.

On the other hand, you look at Ohio, Republicans control the entire process. So they control both chambers of the legislature, the governor. They ought to be able to add new districts, except, Judy, they just gained five congressional districts in the November elections. There are enough Democratic voters in the state located in a certain part of the state, in the north-northeast — northern-northeast part of the state going from Toledo all the way over to Youngstown where they are going to have to get their district, maybe four or five congressional districts.

So, it’s — just because somebody controls the process or because a state is in the South or the Northeast, it doesn’t guarantee that there will be certain winners and losers. It does suggest, as David suggests, that there is a Republican advantage here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, in most states, it is the state legislature doing this.

So, David, is this a purely political process, or are there any guidelines that are followed from the census…

DAVID CHALIAN: Of the 18 states that are going to see a change, right, nine of them are fully controlled by Republicans, Republican legislature, Republican governor, only three of them fully controlled by Democrats.

But three of the states Iowa, Arizona, Missouri, all nonpartisan, independent commissions look into this. They really do take partisan politics out of it. We are seeing a trend in that. We have seen California vote for a similar redistricting process, Florida. And we have — we’re seeing more and more of a trend that voters want politics out of this process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I was reading one article today, Stu, that basically quoted — I quoted somebody as saying that the two parties prepare to go to war over redistricting, that there’s that much at stake in these numbers.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Oh, there’s a lot at stake here.

Just think of it this way. A year ago, I think Democrats thought that redistricting — reapportionment and redistricting would be a great opportunity to reverse what Republicans had done to them 10 years in redistricting in certain states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the like. That’s no longer the case.

We’re talking about a handful of Electoral College votes, but also a number of congressional seats that are going to change because of this. So, I think this is a big deal. And, Judy, remember this. It’s hard to convince Republican voters or Democratic voters to change their party preference, right, David?

I mean, it’s really hard. If you’re a partisan Republican, you’re going to vote Republican. The way you really change the makeup of Congress is through redistricting, by redrawing the districts. And it only happens once every 10 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of this, shall we say, David, guided out of Washington? I mean, how much — we know there are a lot of folks in this city watching these numbers very closely today.

DAVID CHALIAN: Washington political professionals play a huge role in this. There’s no doubt about it.

But it also is guided in these state capitals across the country, too. There are whole, as I said before, sort of cottage industries set up with their computers — and now it’s so easy with computers, right? You take your mouse and you can literally move a line block by block. And people are dedicated to their professional lives to — to try to draw this for a partisan advantage.

To Stu’s point about the Electoral College overall, we have to remember, if — these numbers obviously affect the Electoral College counts, since it’s based on how many representatives you have in a state. Barack Obama would have had six fewer electoral votes. John McCain would have had six more electoral votes. It still would have been a wallop of a presidential — a wallop of an election in 2008.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with this change.

DAVID CHALIAN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But — but, having said that…

STUART ROTHENBERG: But we have had different elections that have been squeakers…

DAVID CHALIAN: Yes.

STUART ROTHENBERG: … where the six might have mattered a lot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, be that as it may, whether it’s the Obama nascent campaign, assuming he runs for reelection — and we don’t know that he will — or however many other Republicans, they are going to be working over these numbers and looking, following very closely the process…

STUART ROTHENBERG: Oh, absolutely. These are the numbers that matter.

Now, we have all forgotten about what happened in November in the election results. These are the important things, because they determine — to some extent, they will determine election results for the next decade.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we’re glad you’re here just on this one night.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu Rothenberg, David Chalian, thank you both.

DAVID CHALIAN: Thank you.