GOP Poised to Gain Clout in South Due to Surging Latino Population

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From Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

When Hispanics vote, most choose Democrats: In 2008, two out of three Latinos voted for Barack Obama over John McCain for president. And a Pew Hispanic Center survey released today finds that 65% plan to vote Democratic this November.

But the rapid growth of Latinos in Southern states will likely have the paradoxical effect of strengthening the political clout of Republicans over the next decade, as GOP-controlled state legislatures redraw state and Congressional political lines after the 2010 Census.

A quick recap: About every 10 years, states redo their political lines based on new Census data. When new boundaries are redrawn for the state legislature, it’s called redistricting. At the national level, it’s called reapportionment: Out of the 435 U.S. House seats, every state gets one, and the remaining 385 are divvied based on population.

As Facing South recently reported, new projections show the South will likely gain big from reapportionment: Four Southern states are expected to gain eight Congressional seats (and also Electoral College votes) after the 2010 Census data is released this December.

Each of the Southern states — Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas — can at least partially thank their burgeoning and Democratic-leaning Latino communities for their growing political clout. But in each of the states, decisions about redrawing Congressional lines are made in the state legislature — which are currently controlled by Republicans, a situation unlikely to change in this GOP-trending year.

That means the lines for all four fast-growing states will be shaped for at least a decade according to the partisan interests of Republicans, despite the source of rising clout. Here’s a chart showing how this will likely break down in 2011 and beyond.

In the long run, the growth of Latino communities in the South is part of a long-term demographic shift that will likely benefit Democrats. But when it comes to drawing the political lines after the 2010 Census, Republicans are likely to stay in control.

Chris Kromm is Publisher for Facing South/Southern Exposure and Director of the Institute for Southern Studies, where this story first appeared.