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Census numbers undercut 'ascendant America' theory

Michael Barone on

From the first years of the one-fifth of this century already completed, we've been told that a new, ascendant America -- more nonwhite, more culturally liberal, more feminist -- was going to dominate our politics for years to come.

Those predictions have partially come true. Barack Obama was elected and reelected president in 2008 and 2012, respectively, and Democrats won majorities in House contests in 2006, 2008 and 2018.

But those are slimmer pickings than were promised. And President Donald Trump's victories in 2016 have made a mockery of the predictions. He wasn't ascendant America's choice. Like (but no more so than) other Republicans, he ran way behind among nonwhites. From millennials and Generation Z he evokes the response, "OK, boomer." Feminists feel queasy at the mention of his name.

Demographics, it turns out, don't automatically turn into destiny. Ascendant groups' triumphalism can coalesce those with opposite values into unaccustomed unity and enthusiasm. Ascendant leaders, not cautioned by sympathetic media, can concoct extreme policies (Green New Deal, anyone?) unsellable to most voters.

And perhaps ascendant groups, with their low birth rates, may not become as ascendant as demographers expected.

That's a conclusion you might draw from the Census Bureau's state population estimates for midyear 2019, released just one day before the year-end deadline. They're the best leading indicator we've got for the 2020 census, whose results will reapportion the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

 

Reapportionment, it appears, would work to the advantage of Trump: The 30 states he carried in 2016 seem likely to gain at least three congressional seats and electoral votes.

One reason is that California, for the first time since it was admitted to the Union in 1850, is gaining population at a rate below the national average and is likely to lose a House seat. The nation's most populated state seems stalled at just below 40 million people, with net domestic outflow of 912,000 over the decade, only barely outbalancing international immigration.

Texas, the second most populated state, is growing far more robustly, from 25 million in 2010 to almost 29 million last year. That's a bigger percentage gain over nine years than any other state except big-family-size Utah. Florida, which passed New York to become number three in 2013, gained 14%. A decade ago, it trailed New York by half a million. Now, with 21 million, it's 2 million ahead.

These changes favor Republicans. Some upscale Texans trended Democratic in 2018, and perhaps some incoming Californians might import the left-wing politics whose results spurred their migration, as in Colorado and Arizona. But Texas' middle-income Latinos and high-education whites remain much more Republican than their California counterparts.

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