The march of Amer­i­can con­ser­vatism

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Ru­pert Corn­well

Christ­mas came early this year for Amer­ica's con­ser­va­tives, and I'm not talk­ing about the midterm "shel­lack­ing" suf­fered by Barack Obama's Democrats. The in­stru­ment of their joy was some­thing that's been around ever since the Found­ing Fa­thers wrote the con­sti­tu­tion: the cen­sus.

In­di­vid­ual elec­tions come and go; you win some, you lose some. But the long-term con­clu­sions to be drawn from the lat­est 2010 cen­sus - the 23rd such ex­er­cise since the first was held in 1790, a year af­ter Ge­orge Washington be­came pres­i­dent - are clear. Slowly but in­eluctably, the US is be­com­ing more con­ser­va­tive. And if Repub­li­cans play their cards right, a bo­nanza awaits. The rea­son is sim­ple. The 435 seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are dis­trib­uted among the states ac­cord­ing to the pop­u­la­tion re­turns of the cen­sus, with each con­gres­sional district rep­re­sent­ing about 700,000 peo­ple. And as the rel­a­tive pop­u­la­tions of the states change, so does their num­ber of con­gres­sional seats, and the num­ber of their votes in the elec­toral col­lege that ul­ti­mately elects pres­i­dents.

The new cen­sus, whose main re­sults were re­leased a few days ago, shows a big shift of pop­u­la­tion to­wards the Repub­li­can strongholds of the south and west. That trend of it­self of course is noth­ing new. Since tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try started to de­cline - and air con­di­tion­ing be­came stan­dard - the north and east of the coun­try, with their shut­tered fac­to­ries and harsh win­ters, have lost ground, as peo­ple moved to warmer and more agree­able climes, where jobs, op­por­tu­nity and re­tire­ment com­forts beck­oned: places like Cal­i­for­nia, then Florida and Texas, and ev­ery­where else the sun shone.

Each US cen­sus cal­cu­lates the pop­u­la­tion's cen­tre of grav­ity. Imag­ine Amer­ica as a gi­ant plate rest­ing on a nee­dle, and ev­ery in­hab­i­tant - all weigh­ing the same - stand­ing where they lived. The cen­tre is the point at which the plate would be in per­fect bal­ance. In 1790, when there were just 13 ex­colonies, the cen­tre of grav­ity was ac­tu­ally east of Washington DC, in coastal Mary­land. Now it's moved al­most 1,000 miles to the wooded hills of the mid­west­ern state of Mis­souri and is grad­u­ally bend­ing south­ward. If any­thing, this south­west­ern drift is ac­cel­er­at­ing. For Repub­li­cans and their elec­tion prospects, that's noth­ing but good news.

The biggest win­ner of all is the party's strong­hold of Texas, which has been given four ex­tra House seats. The sec­ond biggest is Florida, which gets two more. In all, eight states gained seats, five of them in the south and west, all re­li­ably Repub­li­can in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, as well as two swing states, Florida and Ne­vada. The only ex­cep­tion was Washington state, that Star­bucks-and Mi­crosoft-land of the Pa­cific north­west, which reg­u­larly votes Demo­crat.

And the main losers? The rust-belt states of the North East, nat­u­rally. Penn­syl­va­nia, Illi­nois, New Jersey, Mas­sachusetts and Michi­gan (the only state in the union ac­tu­ally to lose pop­u­la­tion over the last decade) give up one seat apiece. Ohio loses two, and so, most tellingly of all, does New York. For 150 years, it was the most pop­u­lous state in the Union; in­deed, for many for­eign­ers, New York was the very em­blem of Amer­ica. Some time around 1960 how­ever, it sur­ren­dered pri­macy to Cal­i­for­nia. Then it was over­taken by Texas. Now it's tied in terms of House seats and elec­toral col­lege votes with up­start Florida, no more than a steamy out­post of the Deep South un­til the 1950s, when air con­di­tion­ing and re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties ar­rived, and mass im­mi­gra­tion from Cuba and cen­tral Amer­ica started in earnest. It's a fair bet that come the 2020 cen­sus, New York will have slipped down to fourth place. Do the sums and these shifts mean that in the av­er­age pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Repub­li­cans can count on an ex­tra six to eight of the 538 elec­toral votes at stake. Democrats will lose five to seven, with an­other six or so up for grabs.

That may not sound much. But re­mem­ber that in 2000 Ge­orge W Bush beat Al Gore by just four elec­toral col­lege votes, 271 to 267.

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