Don’t Panic About the 2010 Census

Don’t Panic About the 2010 Census
By Chris Huttman

With the release of the 2010 Census Data, many of my elected and non-elected Democratic friends have come to me with panic. They want to know what the numbers mean for their districts, if the city of Atlanta suffers from an undercount, and just how bad it will be for our party after the Republicans redistrict. I’ve got a simple message for them: don’t panic.

Don’t panic? I know that can be a difficult message to hear when someone occupies a district that is underpopulated and is wondering about their political future and words like “eliminated” are being thrown around. And with the likely undercount of Atlanta and news that Georgia’s Republican dominated suburbs were the fastest growing, it can easily seem like the census has handed down a 10 year sentence of minority status with no possibility of political parole. When you look below the surface of the numbers, that’s just not the case.

First things first. It’s true that Atlanta’s suburbs have continued their exorbitant growth at the expense of downtown and rural Georgia. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the same thing has been happening for nearly 50 years now. What is different this year is the type of growth the suburbs are receiving. I looked at the 25 fastest growing state house districts in the state. Collectively, their population grew from a little over 1.1 million to just under 1.9 million. All but two districts are located in the greater Atlanta region, and Republicans have dominated them – they won 21 of them in the most recent election.

These 25 districts will be reconstituted as 35 when the new maps are drawn. But does that mean a 10 seat Republican gain? Hardly. When you look below the surface, you find that the people moving to these areas are not exactly what you’d term a Republican demographic. The white non-hispanic population was once 79% of these districts, but in the last ten years while 278,366 whites moved here, people that identified themselves to the census as “any part black” moved here in numbers equaling 302,875. The white percentage in these districts is now under 63%. There’s also 151,183 Hispanics living in these districts, more than three times the number ten years ago.
While Atlanta certainly suffered some undercount, it’s not clear what kind of remedy exists for the city. For Democrats that represent areas inside the perimeter, districts will have to grow and shift geographically towards the suburbs. Unlike the 2000 census, they’ll find friendly areas waiting for them. We’ve long known that Cobb and Gwinnett counties were more competitive than their Reagan-era reputations as Georgia’s Republican bedrocks. In ten years, both counties saw slight decreases in their white non-hispanic population while their African American populations surged.
What’s different about this census is that counties like Douglas, Henry, Newton, Paulding and Rockdale have seen explosive growth that has already tilted many districts contained within towards the Democrats. 73% of the population growth in these 5 counties was African American. The Republicans may counter with the strong growth in the Northern ring of Cherokee, Forsyth and Hall Counties. Growth is strong there, and Democratic gains aren’t likely, but to put things in perspective for every 2 new whites that now live in Cherokee, Forsyth and Hall, 3 African Americans were added to Douglas, Henry, Newton, Paulding and Rockdale.
So, Democrats: Don’t Panic. Yes, many of our incumbents are in underpopulated districts, and they will have to grow and shift. But unlike any other census in history, today there are Democratic voters waiting in all directions and the Republicans really have no choice but to add them to current Democratic districts. The census confirms what many of us have long known, Georgia is becoming more demographically diverse, and that diversity is spreading out geographically into the suburbs and exurbs like never before. We’re likely to be a top statewide target nationally starting in 2012 and even with a Republican the districts that send members to Congress, the state legislature, county commissions and school boards will soon reflect this growing diversity.
Chris Huttman is a Georgia Democratic numbers guru and trusted advisor to many former and current elected officials. He is also a principal with 20/20 Insight, a polling company based in Atlanta, Georgia.


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