A White House spokesman downplayed the impact of the census numbers on national politics [EPA]
Watching red and blue patches pop up on the US map at every election is part of the political junkie’s nail-biting ritual.
However, it seems that US Census data released on Tuesday will deliver a bit of a spoiler. If you prefer to be surprised, stop reading. Otherwise, here it is:
The Census figures predict that Republican-leaning states in the US South and West will gain political clout from US population figures, dealing a blow to Barack Obama, US president, and his fellow Democrats that could linger for years.
The Census projections show a population shift from Democratic-leaning states in the Northeast and Midwest to Republican strongholds like Texas, Utah and South Carolina, giving those states more seats in the US House of Representatives.
The new figures, also could play a role in the 2012 White House race. The number of House seats determines each state’s representation in the Electoral College, which is used to elect a president.
The release of the figures kicks off the once-a-decade, state-by-state fight over redrawing congressional lines to ensure each House district represents roughly the same number of people.
The process, known as redistricting, is intensely partisan in many states as the parties fight to draw the boundaries in a way that makes each of the 435 House districts more reliably Republican or Democratic.
States that gained seats must determine where to place the new districts, with the dominant party in each state looking for maximum political advantage. States that lost seats will decide which districts to combine, meaning some House incumbents will have to face each other in the 2012 election.
“Now everyone can start to figure out who has a target on their back,” said Tim Storey, a redistricting expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The figures were released by the Census Bureau in its 2010 national population survey, conducted every 10 years.
Blue states lose
Much of the population shift came from more Democratic states won by Obama in the 2008 presidential election to more conservative states won by Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Of the eight states that gain at least one seat, five were won by McCain. Staunchly Republican Texas will gain four House seats, helped by a growing Hispanic population, while Arizona, Utah, Georgia and South Carolina – all reliably conservative – will pick up one each.
Three states won by Obama in 2008 gained seats – Florida, which picks up two, and Washington and Nevada, which gain one each.
In 2008, Obama won eight of the 10 states losing seats, including New York and Ohio, which will lose two each. Losing one seat will be Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey.
The changes in House apportionment mean Obama could face a slightly tougher electoral map when he seeks re-election in 2012.
But Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, downplayed the impact of the numbers. He said he doesn’t expect the results of the new census to have a “huge practical impact” on national politics,
The states won by McCain that lose a seat are Missouri and Louisiana, which suffered a population drop after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Slow population growth
The Census numbers also indicate that the US population is 308.7 million, reflecting the lowest growth since the Great Depression.
Robert Groves, Census Bureau Director, said the figure represents an increase of 9.7 per cent over the 2000 U.S. resident population of 281.4 million, with Texas gaining the most people since the 2000 census, up 4.3 million residents to 25.1 million.
However, the US is still growing quickly relative to other developed nations.
The population in France and England each increased roughly 5 per cent over the past decade, while in Japan the number is largely unchanged, and Germany’s population is declining.
China grew at about 6 per cent; Canada’s growth rate is roughly 10 per cent.
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