The Elephant in the Room: Voting GOP with their feet

Population trends are favoring Republicans who run for president and Congress.

The Census Bureau last week launched efforts to get you to fill out the decennial 10-question survey that will be sent out in March. State and local officials will be inundating you with pleas to do your duty and send in your census forms.

What makes them care? Only money and power. The census results determine states' congressional districts, presidential electoral votes, and federal funding.

According to 2009 estimates just released, the U.S. population has risen 9 percent since 2000. Pennsylvania's population, meanwhile, has increased by an anemic 2.6 percent, or 323,713 residents. The research firm Polidata figures that Pennsylvania will lose one congressional seat as a result.

Believe it or not, that's progress. Pennsylvania has lost at least two seats in every census since 1950.

Which Pennsylvania representative loses his or her seat will depend on which party controls the redistricting process in Harrisburg. When they crafted the last redistricting plan in 2002, the Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican governor had several objectives in mind:

Meeting the Supreme Court's requirements that each district have the same number of people and that "majority minority" districts (such as Rep. Chaka Fattah's) promote minority representation in Congress.

Avoiding unnecessary divisions of counties or communities.

Protecting lawmakers, such as Rep. Jack Murtha, whose seniority or key committee assignments help the state.

Helping colleagues in the legislature who wanted to run for Congress, such as Jim Gerlach.

Finally, where possible, improving the party's chances of winning seats.

Most of those goals were accomplished, but the last one - as always in a swing state such as Pennsylvania - turned out to be tricky. After the 2002 election, Pennsylvania had 12 Republican representatives and seven Democrats. Today, there are seven Republicans and 12 Democrats.

Other states likely to lose a congressional seat and, with it, a presidential electoral vote, are New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Louisiana; Ohio could lose two. Meanwhile, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Texas are all expected to pick up seats and electoral votes.

Why the shift from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West? Hint: It's not just the weather. It's also a climate that's friendlier to business and taxpayers, which results in more job creation. Here's one piece of evidence: For the first time since it entered the Union, the Progressive Republic of California is not expected to gain a congressional seat, while conservatively governed Texas is expected to pick up four.

Pennsylvanians can witness this trend on the micro level as counties along the Delaware River fill up with workers from New York and New Jersey, where taxes are higher and job growth is lower than ours. Pennsylvania's next governor, take note.

The impact of all this on the next presidential election could be profound. If Polidata's predictions are right, and President Obama wins the same states he won in 2008, his margin of victory would be cut by 14 electoral votes.

Over the last three presidential elections, there were only 10 states won by presidential candidates from both parties (Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado). In 2004, George W. Bush won all of these swing states and enjoyed a comfortable victory. In 2000, he lost Iowa and New Mexico (12 electoral votes combined) and won the presidency with 271 electoral votes - only one vote to spare. Barack Obama, meanwhile, won all of these states to come up with a hefty 364 electoral votes.

In 2012, the GOP nominee could, as Bush did, lose Iowa and New Mexico, plus a combination of states adding up to 20 electoral votes, and still win. Thus, Obama could win the swing states of Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Colorado - or New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia - and still lose the election.

Much has been written about the long-term demographic trend of increasing minority populations, which favors Democrats. This may be true, though it's still unclear whether the generations descended from recent immigrants will be less driven by traditional ethnic concerns.

But there is also this short-term demographic reality: People are voting with their feet by moving to states and regions governed by Republicans. That will be an advantage for Republicans in the coming congressional and presidential elections.

Rick Santorum can be reached at