POPULATION shifts and birth and death rates point to a nation on the move — toward older age, childlessness and single status. U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2012 show that Oklahoma isn't moving much at all.
The state's growth rate is 0.81 percent, a figure that may save Oklahoma from losing another seat in Congress but not help regain the one we lost after the 2000 census. More telling, perhaps, are other indicators. Oklahoma's “natural” population increase (births over deaths) exceeds 4 percent. Its net migration rate (people arriving versus people leaving) is nearly 4 percent.
The country as a whole is seeing a leveling of population growth as the average age of Americans rises and women wait longer to bear children — if they have them at all. Meantime, hard economic times have slowed immigration levels.
The states with the fastest growth are generally in the South and West; typically, they are red states in political terms. The highest overall growth came in North Dakota, owing to the energy boom, but the blue state of Oregon and the purple state of Colorado are also seeing growth.
Not so in the most liberal state of them all, Vermont, or in Rhode Island. Those states are losing population.
Some political conclusions can be drawn from these figures and competing interests will find something to tout. For example, Oklahoma's pro-growth, pro-business leadership or its vibrant energy sector hasn't translated into rapid growth. But it has in Texas, which picked up three congressional seats after the 2010 census. Colorado, which supported Barack Obama in two elections, is growing faster than Oklahoma. So are California and Washington.
Our view is that pro-business states are better positioned to take advantage of economic recovery because of job opportunities. Young adults who are belatedly leaving their parents' nests will migrate to places with the best employment opportunities. Tax policy might play a role as well, but the trend toward more single young adults, more childless couples and more old people dependent on Social Security and Medicare portends continued support for Democratic politicians who, like Obama, pander to their interests.
Still, the Electoral College will be affected by the influx of residents and congressional seats to states such as Texas and away from states such as New York and New Jersey. This trend will favor Republicans — but only so much. The rapid growth of minority populations, particularly Hispanics, could provide an offset. This is all the more reason for Republicans to embrace sensible immigration reform and reject measures that are too easily characterized as xenophobic.
Aging baby boomers will play an outsized role in picking leaders. Not only are they active voters, but they will support politicians who favor their interests. Low birthrates in liberal states will play a role as well.
Oklahoma is poised to benefit from some demographic trends because of a relatively healthy economy and a favorable cost of living. Tax policy may play less of a role. Low property taxes here are an offset to any negative effects of having a personal income tax rate of 5.25 percent or taxing the sale of groceries.
Growth begets growth. Even with all its negatives, California is growing — just not very rapidly. After the 2010 census, it failed to gain a congressional seat for only the second time since statehood. But it remains the nation's largest state and has the biggest congressional delegation and enormous clout in the Electoral College.
Despite its rapid growth, North Dakota still has only one congressional seat and three electoral votes. And despite demographic changes, most states with political clout today will continue to have it for years to come.