As Sun Belt Rises, Expect Political Surprises

Jonathan Tilove, Newhouse News Service, May 25

By 2030, nearly two-thirds of all Americans will live in the South and West—the Sun Belt—according to recent Census Bureau projections.

In fact, the bureau forecasts that 30 percent of all Americans will be living in just three states—California, Texas and Florida—each of which it calculates will grow by 12 million, the total population in 2000 of Pennsylvania or Illinois.

The shift will profoundly affect American life, most obviously in culture and politics. The Sun Belt’s changing racial and ethnic landscape may be the shiny silver lining for Democrats otherwise fated to watch the air leak out of much of blue America.

The overall trend continues a decades-long migration of people and power south and west that author Kevin Phillips in 1969 accurately predicted would carry Republicans to political ascendancy—but with a twist. In ways Phillips could not have foreseen when he wrote “The Emerging Republican Majority,” immigration is Latinizing significant stretches of a region whose conservative identity was forged by the white middle class. As a result, its political character is fracturing in uneven and unpredictable ways.

“I don’t think the Sun Belt has the political cohesion it had 40 years ago,” Phillips said from his home in Connecticut. “The Sun Belt is so dominant that it now has divisions and compartments that are really different from one another.”

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—By 2030, Florida’s non-Hispanic white population will have slipped to 56 percent from 66 percent and the state will be a quarter Hispanic.

—Texas will be majority Hispanic. It will gain fewer than a million non-Hispanic whites between 2000 and 2030, while the Hispanic population will triple, growing by 13 million.

—California, which Phillips envisioned as the cornerstone of a conservative majority but which now anchors the Democratic map, will see its Hispanic population double by 2030, growing by 11 million, while its non-Hispanic white population declines by 2 million. It will be 29 percent white and 47 percent Hispanic.

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