Census results boost Democrats, while Republicans fight the tide

A steady migration from rural to more urban areas is true in Maine, as it is nationwide.
The entrance to the Cross Insurance Arena is seen from across the street.
In Maine, urban areas have gained while rural counties have lost population or experienced relatively small growth. Photo by Meg Robbins.

America’s worst-kept secret was recently revealed.

It’s the census, mandated by the Constitution to be conducted every 10 years to set the number of U.S. House of Representatives for each state. Its purpose is political, and the pundits are now having a fine time with it.

It’s a poorly kept secret because it has become easier to keep track of the population annually. This time the census confirmed some of what we already knew, but provided at least three results that merit new attention.

The country had previously recognized that the non-white population is growing faster than the white population. The clear message is that at some point in the next 20 to 30 years, the majority in the U.S. will be non-white.

The surprise this year was that for the first time, there were fewer whites than in the last census, not merely a smaller percentage. A lower birth rate, an aging population and fewer European immigrants brought the change. The non-white American majority will develop sooner than expected.

Even Maine, while remaining the whitest state, shows signs of change as its minority population has begun growing faster. As a percentage, it almost doubled.

Race designations in the census result are the choice of each respondent. A surprise this year was a sharp growth among people who classified themselves as having mixed origins

Intermarriage between people from different ethnic groups has become more common and accepted. Though they may have called themselves Black, both former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris could have chosen the multiple race category.

The third fact revealing change is the movement of people out of rural America to metropolitan areas. Many big cities are growing while small towns are declining. Cities have more diverse populations while rural areas have been overwhelmingly white.

Southern Maine posting gains

In Maine, without big cities, urban areas have gained while rural counties have lost population or experienced relatively small growth. Legislative redistricting, based on the new numbers, takes place this year. Southern Maine, now dominated by Democrats, should gain.

It’s widely accepted that non-whites will predominantly be Democrats, while whites, especially in rural America, are Republicans. That’s led to the conclusion that the country will move toward the community-oriented politics of urban Democrats and away from rural GOP conservative individualists.

Whether that’s true remains to be seen. As non-whites gain increased prosperity, promised by the “American dream,” the question may be whether they change their politics as they expand their pocketbooks.

So why is a shift to the Democrats assumed? To a considerable degree, the answer may come from the Republican Party. At the moment it’s trying to construct political obstacles to minimize the effects of the inevitable change in the ethnic makeup of the population and block Democratic control.

The GOP tool is voter suppression. Where Republicans now control state governments, they are passing laws making election access more complicated. They see their traditional white supporters as being more likely to show up at polling places than are newer, minority voters. Measures to ease voting, like longer voting periods or mail-in ballots, are being curtailed.

In addition, the GOP uses its congressional and state legislative redistricting powers to draw specially designed districts that can produce the smallest number of Democratic legislators. Through such gerrymandering, they can prolong their control. It allows them time to adopt laws and rules that may be difficult to topple if the Democrats gain control.

In short, the Republicans are attempting to extend their reach far into the future even as power may be slipping away. They seek to delay Democrats gaining political control even as the number of non-white voters increases.

Whether this policy makes sense could be questionable. It’s possible that some non-white voters are not natural Democrats, but may come to resent GOP efforts to minimize their influence. In effect the Republicans are inviting them to choose the Democrats.

Too much attention can be paid to what the census reveals. Two other key factors don’t show up in its count, and both seem to help the Democrats.

The increased participation of African-Americans in the electoral process shows the Obama elections were not passing events. Two Georgia U.S. Senate races this year elected Democrats in what was a solidly GOP state, thanks to efforts to increase Black voting. In the face of voter suppression efforts there, the Democrats have to find ways to keep that happening.

The other change is the participation of women voters. The major news is that white women are no longer voting similarly to white men. Their participation has grown along with their independence.

Political change is certainly coming. The census and related trends reveal that it may come sooner than expected.


Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil has been active in politics, journalism, publishing and energy consulting. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he has a master’s degree from the College of Europe (Belgium), and a Ph.D. from Columbia. He is an Army veteran. He was a top aide to U.S. Sen. George McGovern during his run for president. In Maine, he served as Commissioner of Business Regulation, Director of the Office of Energy Resources and the state’s first Public Advocate. He was a Harpswell selectman. He led the negotiations that created the unified New England power grid and chaired the national organization of state energy agencies. He reported for the Washington Post, Newsweek, London’s Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and WNET (New York). His weekly commentary has appeared in Maine newspapers since 2008. He has written or edited 16 books or collections ranging from the biography of Sears, Roebuck to the three-volume U.S. Supreme Court original jurisdiction decisions. His company, sold in 2005, was the largest publisher of state government regulatory codes.
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