In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states
In response to Post opinion writer Paul Waldman’s essay about the current power of the minority in American politics, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offered a stunning bit of data on Twitter.
I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least
— Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) July 10, 2018
In broad strokes, Ornstein is correct.
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia analyzed Census Bureau population projections to estimate each state’s likely population in 2040, including the expected breakdown of the population by age and gender. Although that data was released in 2016, before the bureau revised its estimates for the coming decades, we see that, in fact, the population will be heavily centered in a few states.
Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent, according to the Weldon Cooper Center’s estimate. The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans.
Geographically, most of those 16 states will be on or near the East Coast. Only three — Arizona, Texas and Colorado — will be west of the Mississippi and not on the West Coast.
Ornstein’s (and Waldman’s) point is clear: 30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.
His tweet goes further, suggesting that the demographics of those states will differ from the larger states, as well, and, therefore, so will their politics.
It’s self-evident that the 34 smaller states will be more rural than the 16 largest; a key part of the reason those states will be so much more populous is the centralization of Americans in cities. It’s true, too, that this movement to cities has reinforced partisan divisions in a process called the Big Sort.
The Weldon Cooper data, though, is less stark on the age differential. Eleven of the 16 most-populous states will have over-65 populations that are below the median density nationally. Twenty-two of the 34 less-populous states will have over-65 populations that are over the median density.
In the current political context, older voters means more
Republican voters. By 2040, though, those 65-year-olds will be Generation X, a generation that currently skews more Democratic than the two generations that preceded it, according to a March study from the Pew Research Center. By 2046, even some millennials — a group that is much more Democratic-leaning — will be at retirement age (!!!).
With an important exception, to Ornstein’s point: White male millennials are the only demographic group within that generational bracket to lean more heavily to the Republicans.
So the partisan ramifications of the uneven distribution of the country’s population aren’t clear. But the possible anti-democratic effects of the lopsided Senate are. The gray states on the map below — states that make up more than two-thirds of the land area of the United States — will similarly control enough of the Senate to overcome any filibuster.
The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas.