Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Westward Shift of Congressional Political Power

I'm putting together some information for a brief introductory chapter to my book on the Tester-Rehberg race to make the case for why those outside Montana should read a book about the 2012 campaign here. One reason among several for why I think this race is important concerns the dramatic shift in regional power that has occurred in the House of Representatives over the past century. The Montana race matters because Montana is in the West and the West has become a political powerhouse in Congress. As the West rises, not only do uniquely Western issues (such as water and public land policy) suddenly take on new significance, the West plays a more substantial role in shaping the policy debate on larger national questions.

To illustrate the power shift, I cobbled together data on the House seats apportioned to each region by decade. I define each region as follows:

East: The six New England states and the Mid-Atlantic states including Delaware and Maryland.

The Midwest/Plains: Includes Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota.

The South: The eleven states of the old Confederacy.

The West: Everything else, including Alaska and Hawaii.

This first graph illustrates the percentage of House seats apportioned to each region by decade. I include estimates for the 2020 congressional apportionment from a piece written by Sean Trende at RealClear Politics in late 2012. You can read that article here.

The second graph is a simple pie chart illustrating the seat percentages by region during the 1900s.

And, for comparison, that same pie chart but using the 2020 reapportionment projections.

This illustrates the dramatic effects population shifts westward and southward have had politically. The Midwest utterly dominated the House at the turn of the century with 40 percent of the seats. By 2020, the West--which accounted for only 5 percent of House seats in the 1900s--will surpass the Midwest as the most powerful political region in the chamber with 105 seats. The Midwest will only have 103 seats. And although the South became the region with the most seats by the 1990s and will continue to add seats through 2020, the South has always been a politically powerful region in the House. In the 1900s, the South held a quarter of seats in the House of Representatives. In 2020, it will hold 33 percent--an increase of eight percentage points. The West, if projections hold, will have increased its share of seats by nineteen percentage points over the same period.

Short answer to why the 2012 Senate race matters is simple. Because the West matters. So goes the West, so goes the nation?

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