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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Geography of Politics and Religion in the US

The western mountain states of the US are moving demographically in the direction of more liberal politics--specifically more sympathetic to the Democratic party. At least that is the conclusion drawn by David Damore of the Brookings Institution in a recent report. The idea is that two key demographic trends--increasing diversity and urbanization--are changing the political boundaries after the 2010 census and these changes will lead to an increase in the likelihood that Democrats will win elections.

Between 2000 and 2010 population growth in all six Mountain West states outpaced the national average of 9.7 percent and the region contains the four states that experienced the largest percent population increase in the country (Nevada = 35.1 percent; Arizona = 24.6 percent; Utah = 23.8 percent, and Idaho = 21.1 percent). As a consequence, Nevada and Utah each gained their fourth seats in the House of Representative and Arizona was awarded its ninth. Beginning with the 2012 election, the Mountain West will have 29 U.S. House seats (Idaho has two House seats, New Mexico has three, and Colorado has seven) and 41 Electoral College votes.
Across the Mountain West, population growth was concentrated in the region’s largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Most notably, the Las Vegas metro area is now home to nearly three out of four Nevadans — the mostly highly concentrated space in the region.
In addition to further urbanizing the region, the prior decade’s growth continued to transform the region’s demographics as all six Mountain West states are now more ethnically diverse as compared to a decade ago. The largest changes occurred in Nevada where the minority population increased by over 11 percent and now better than 45 percent of Nevadans are classified as non-white. While the bulk of this growth was among Hispanics, whose share of the population increased by 7 percent and are now 26.5 percent of all Nevadans, the Silver State also recorded large increases among Asian and Pacific Islanders. Arizona experienced similar increases as that state’s minority population mushroomed from 36.2 percent to 42.2 percent with Hispanics now constituting 30 percent of the population. In Colorado, the minority population increased by 3.5 percent to 30 percent. Nearly all of this change was caused by an increase in Hispanics, who now constitute 20.7 percent of the state’s population. 
One cannot argue with those numbers, but we might wish to temper the conclusion that the region is going to become more friendly to Democrats. In the first place a large percentage of the Hispanics are not citizens, and so they won't participate politically, even if their presence helped to shape political boundaries. Secondly, data from the Pew Research Forum show that Hispanics are predominantly Catholic, but at the same time heavily evangelical. It is not yet clear how this religious perspective plays out politically. And finally, we can note that other data from Pew show that 53 percent of all Mormon adults in the US live in the Mountain West states. Since Mormons are generally quite conservative politically, even though generally urban, their presence may moderate the liberalizing tendency of the region.

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