Democrats, already frustrated by their failure to retake Congress in the 2000 elections, will have a fresh challenge going into the 2002 campaign.
New population numbers for the United States were rolled out Thursday by the Bureau of the Census, and they show political power flowing out of states where Democrats usually do well, like New York and Pennsylvania.
Gaining seats in the new Congress will be states in the South and West that helped Republicans take over the Congress in the 1990s, including Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
The new Census Bureau figures - which peg the 2000 population of the country at a record 281,421,906 - will shift a total of 12 seats to other states. With the House of Representatives already narrowly divided at 221 Republicans, 212 Democrats, and two Independents, even a nominal move toward GOP-leaning states could help President-elect Bush and the GOP retain power in Washington for years to come.
The shift also will have an impact on future presidential races because the tide of population moving to the South and West will reduce the number votes cast in the Electoral College by the Northeast and Midwest, where Democrat Al Gore ran strongly this year.
If the new Electoral College lineup had been in place for the 2000 elections, Mr. Bush would have won by a slightly more comfortable electoral margin.
The new census numbers will be in effect for the 2002 elections, and so will new districting lines in every state that has more than one member of the House. The combination of the census changes and the new district lines could conceivably add more than a dozen seats to the Republican totals in the House, in the view of some analysts.
Kenneth Prewitt, director of the US Census Bureau, says that while public attention has focused on various controversies about the new population numbers, it is the redistricting process in the states that will ultimately have a greater impact on the political balance in Congress.
Dr. Prewitt points particularly to efforts by Republicans and Democrats in the state legislatures to "gerrymander" districts - that is, to draw new district lines that maximize the political power of their parties.
Ten years ago - the last time the district lines were redrawn - Democrats held the upper hand. At that time, Republicans controlled only six of the 50 state legislatures, and in many states, Democrats were able to craft oddly shaped districts that boosted their membership in Congress.
This time, Republicans will be on a more even playing field. Republicans and Democrats each control 17 state legislatures, while the remaining 15 are split. Governors also often play a role in redistricting fights, and there the GOP will have the help of 29 governors, while the Democrats have only 19. Two governors are independents.
"The redistricting wars will now begin in earnest, and it appears that the election had little effect on who will have the upper hand," says Tim Storey, election analyst for the national Conference of State Legislatures.
Political scientist Earl Black at Rice University in Houston, one of the leading authorities on the resurgent political power of the South, notes that the new census boosts the number of Southern seats in the House from 147 to 153. Republicans already hold a majority of those seats, and this should add to their totals.
Meanwhile, he notes that the North is experiencing a decline of central cities and a rise of the suburbs - again good news for the GOP.
In the Sunbelt, Dr. Black sees the greatest potential for the GOP in Texas, where US House seats are currently split 17 to 13 in favor of Democrats. After two new seats are added in Texas, he expects "at least" a 16-to-16 split, for a net gain of four seats for the Republicans.
Nationwide, the new census will cause 10 states, mostly in the North, to lose seats. They are New York (losing 2 of 31 seats), Pennsylvania (2 of 21 seats), Connecticut (1 of 6 seats), Illinois (1 of 20), Indiana (1 of 10), Michigan (1 of 16), Wisconsin (1 of nine), Ohio (1 of 19), Oklahoma (1 of 6), and Mississippi (1 of 5).
Gainers are all in the South and West. Adding two each will be Texas, with a new total of 32, Arizona increasing to eight, Florida increasing to 25, and Georgia increasing to 13. Adding one seat each with their new totals will be California, 53; Colorado, seven; Nevada, three; and North Carolina, 13.
The new US population of 281,421,906 is up 13.2 percent since the 1990 total of 248,709,873. The US growth rate is accelerating. Growth from 1980 to 1990 was 9.8 percent.
California remains the most populous state at 33,871,648. That is 13.8 percent more than the 1990 total of 29,811,427.
The fastest-growing state was Nevada, at 66.3 percent. The least populous state was Wyoming, at 493,782.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society