Capitol Alert

Big trends will affect California politics

Demographics, it’s been said, are destiny. That’s especially true of their impact on politics.

Midway through the decade, California’s major demographic trends are quite evident and will, indeed, affect its politics in the years ahead.

This week, the state Department of Finance released 2015 population estimates for the state and its cities and counties, which confirmed several of those trends:

▪ While the state’s population continues to grow, it’s relatively slow, under 1 percent a year or about half of what it was in the 1980s.

▪ Immigration from other countries, legal and illegal, has slowed to a trickle while we lose about as many people to other states as we gain, so the notion that we attract huge hordes of newcomers is now just a myth.

▪ Births minus deaths – what demographers call “natural increase” – now account for 75 percent of the state’s population gains. However, births are declining as its population ages and the flow of young immigrants slows, while deaths are increasing because of the aging factor. Thus, overall population growth may slow even more.

▪ Within the state, population trends tend to follow economic ones. Since the 2010 census, the state’s population has grown by 4.8 percent, but the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, whose economy is booming, have grown by 7 percent.

▪ Meanwhile, Southern California’s population growth, once driven by high immigration and birth rates, lags behind the rest of the state – along with its economy – with Los Angeles County seeing just a 3.8 percent population increase since 2010.

If these trends continue – and there’s no reason to believe they won’t – the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts should see a noticeable shift from Southern California to Northern California and particularly the Bay Area.

Such a shift would not only enhance the Bay Area’s already considerable political clout but bolster the Democratic Party’s hold on both the state Capitol and California’s congressional delegation, given the region’s ideological proclivities.

However, it could slow the expansion of Latinos’ political power, even though they are now the state’s largest ethnic group, because they are concentrated in relatively slow-growing regions. We’ll probably see more battles between Latino and white politicians for a shrinking number of seats, as well as more power struggles between rival Latino political factions, particularly in Los Angeles County.

It’s doubtful, meanwhile, that the state will see gains when the 435 congressional seats are divvied up among the states after the 2020 census.

Due to slow population growth between 2000 and 2010, the state did not receive even one additional seat, and that’s likely to repeat itself because the state is growing only slightly faster than the nation as a whole.

Were a pending Supreme Court case to require potential voters, rather than raw population, to be used for reapportionment and redistricting purposes, all of these demographic impacts will become even more pronounced.