If there’s one adage that anyone who ever strapped on a pair of skates, grabbed a stick, and slid out to play hockey knows, it’s that Your first game of the season is your healthiest game of the season. Because when you step out onto the ice for that first game, you’re 100% healthy. The nature of the game pretty well assures that you’re going to get dented and dinged, and while it may not keep you out of the lineup, you’re not 100% anymore either. By late season, likely far from it.
And the same old hockey adage can be adapted to a time honored political institution as well. And the way it goes when related to politics is this, Your best gerrymander election is your first gerrymander election. because while hockey players may be subject to dings and owies, gerrymandered states are subject to a simple force known as population migration.
I have written about this before, but I wanted to update it because there are undercurrents running under the surface right now that weren’t present a few years ago, but may actually intensify the effect.
The census is held once every 10 years, on the decade change. In the next year, the legislature in power looks at the population and demographics of their state population, and then tries to creatively tilt the map in their favor. And that’s only natural. To the victors go the spoils. The problem is that the map is only drawn once every ten years, and the day after the newest map is approved, people start moving around.
This is, by all I can see, becoming an especially vexing problem in the states that make up what they want to be called The New South. Because southern states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and even Alabama are spending millions of dollars trying to attract large new or existing companies to their states. And the most prized of all are tech companies. Amazon had states going to the mattresses when they announced that they wanted to open a new satellite headquarters.
Because new business doesn’t just represent increased corporate revenue, it also means increased population in the new employees being brought in to fill those jobs. And while it can, and normally does help the state’s bottom line, it can create absolute havoc on a gerrymandering map. For two reasons.
First, with any large non manufacturing company, the influx of new employees are generally going to trend to younger, more professional, better off, more upwardly mobile employees. Which tends to mean people who tend to lean in a more Democratic, progressive view of politics.
And they’re going to need someplace to live. And since most companies tend to move to larger, more urban areas, that can be a problem for the GOP. Because, especially if they have or want children, these employees are not going to want to live city center. Which means that they’re more likely to move to the suburbs surrounding the city, or if they can work from home, even the more rural exurbs. And if they’re moving in, that must mean somebody else is moving out, likely the traditional GOP voters who already live there.
But here’s the hidden part that nobody ever thinks about. When a new company opens, especially if it’s in a new building, the younger more liberal employees aren’t the only ones moving in. A new building means things like support staff, cleaners, maintenance crews, and in full service buildings cafeteria and restaurant staff. This is also a magnet for non college educated workers, as well as lower level workers wanting a new career in a safe place. Again, more likely minorities and more Democratic.
But here’s the second hidden demographic, the youth vote. In 2018, following the Parkland high school shooting in Florida, 18-29 voter participation went through the roof, fueled by gun control. They led the charge that gave the Democrats a 40 seat tsunami in the House. In 2020 the numbers were up again, and helped fuel Biden’s run to the White House. In 2022 it surged again, helping to contain what should have been a Democratic wipeout. The analytical survey I saw today showed that in 2022, the 18-29 demographic went 70% for the Democrats. And you can bet they’ll be cack out in force again in 2024. The Democrats are seeding their next generation of voters, and the GOP is turning them away.
Here’s why this should be causing so much panic in the GOP. There is no easy way for the state GOP apparatchiks to follow the population migration trends, and it wouldn’t help if they could, their drink me is all used up for this decade. And most pollsters, when compiling their polling pool use voter registration rolls, looking for people who voted in the last election. And while new residents may have registered already, since they haven’t voted, their names won’t be used. They’re a stealth voting bloc.
The same thing goes for the youth vote. Because every year some 1.5-2 million American teens turn 18 and become eligible to vote. That’s something like 3-4 million every two year cycle. And population migration isn’t even an issue, they’re already there! And again, while they may have registered, since they haven’t yet voted, they’re stealth. And since the average GOP district gerrymander is 2.6-3.2%, that kind of stealth vote can turn the tide in a competitive race. but even in a statewide race like Governor, Attorney General, or US Senate, that stealth vote can be deadly.
Gerrymandering has been around forever, but it didn’t reach criminal proportions until 2010, when the GOP spent millions to sway state congressional races to allow them to turn them into GOP bulwarks. But like a dinosaur with one foot in the tar pit, it is doomed to GOP extinction.
Will Rodgers once famously said, I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat. And he was right, and still is. Because the Democratic party is a Big Tent party. We include everybody. And like a family Thanksgiving dinner, things can get messy when it comes to politics. But the Democratic party is capable of regenerating. The GOP base is older, whiter, more racist, and more evangelical. It’s also shrinking. And all the gerrymandering in the world can’t beat the actuarial tables.