On December 21st the U.S. Census Bureau will release the initial results of the 2010 census and indicate which states will gain members of Congress and which states will lose members of Congress. From the estimates made by third parties, it seems likely that the number of Mormons in Congress will increase as a result.
Several companies, including Election Data Services, publish regular analysis’ of how the next apportionment will work. EDS’ most recent analysis (pdf), released October 15, indicates that Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will each gain a seat in Congress, while Florida gains two and Texas four seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will all loose a seat, while the states of New York and Ohio will loose two seats. Of course these are estimates, not the official numbers. The actual apportionment will be released on December 21st.
If EDS’ numbers are correct or close, three of the states gaining a seat, Utah, Nevada and Arizona, have relatively large Mormon populations, and therefore, could conceivably elect, at some point, an additional Mormon to the U.S. Congress. My own expectation is that at least one, and possibly two, of the seats will be won by a Mormon politician in the next election or soon after.
The additional seat for Utah is, of course, the most likely to be won by a Mormon politician. With 68% of the state’s population thought to be members of the LDS Church, and with the entire Utah delegation made up of LDS Church members, that seems likely, even if every voter in the new district completely ignored the religion of the candidates for the new seat. But it should also be recognized that this is not certain, only likely.
Perhaps the more interesting question in Utah’s case is how likely the new district will be to elect a Democrat. During the next year the legislatures of each state that has gained or lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will have to set new boundaries for each House seat in the state. When this happens, state legislators almost always try to draw the district boundaries in a way that favors their party.
There are two general strategies that can be used to do this. First, the legislators can try to concentrate all of the other party’s base in one or a few districts, conceding those seats in order to secure the others for their party. The other strategy is to split up concentrations of the other party’s voters among multiple districts that are made up mostly of the supporters of the majority party. Of course, what will actually work in each case depends a lot on the state’s circumstances and demographics.
Since Utah’s legislature is heavily Republican (as well as heavily Mormon), they will likely try to favor Republicans. But, after Utah was given its 3rd seat in 1980, the Republican legislature tried to divide the state into 3 majority Republican districts. However, despite this, Democrats were able to win one of the three seats soon after the district was created and have had at least one ever since — which shows that these redistricting efforts don’t always work as planned.
[In case anyone gets the wrong idea, I should say that I don't expect the legislators in Utah or anywhere else to redistrict to favor Mormon candidates -- political party affiliation simply has more influence on politicians actions. Nor am I suggesting that any state should redistrict to favor any religion.]
I’m not familiar enough with the political demographics and politics of Utah (or any state) to guess at how the state legislature might divide the state into four districts. I assume that Democrat and LDS Church member Jim Matheson’s seat could be at risk, but I assume it is also possible that the legislature could leave him alone in order to assure that the other seats will be filled by Republicans. [I rather doubt the latter, but it may be possible.]
In any case, I believe we can assume that the new Utah seat will be won by a Mormon in the 2012 election and that Mormon will likely be a Republican.
Arizona’s additional seat is probably not likely to be filled by a Mormon, at least not initially. Just 5.8% of the state’s population is Mormon, concentrated in Phoenix’s southeastern suburbs and the eastern part of the state. In spite of this, the proportion of Arizona residents that are Mormon has declined slightly over the decade because the state is growing faster than the Church is in the state. The state is growing so fast that there is a small possibility that the state could get two seats, if growth is unexpectedly strong (or if enough immigrants ignored the anti-immigrant climate in Arizona and let themselves be counted).
Like Utah, Arizona’s legislature, lead by its new Senate President, LDS Church member Russell Pearce (yes, the one behind the immigration bill), is heavily Republican, so it is likely that the new seat will go to a Republican, and that the only LDS member of Arizona’s congressional delegation, Jeff Flake, is likely to have his district remain majority Republican. Flake’s district, which covers Phoenix’s southeastern suburbs and the largest concentration of Mormons in the state, will likely have to shrink slightly at least. Theoretically, this concentration of Mormons could be split into more than one district, if the 2/3rds Republican legislature decided to use its Republican concentration to increase how dependably the surrounding districts are to vote Republican. In that case, it is would be more likely that two Mormons from Arizona could win.
Like Arizona, Nevada’s additional seat may not be filled by a Mormon initially. 6.7% of the state is Mormon, and like in Arizona that concentration has decreased over the past decade – also because the state is growing so much faster than the Church is there.
However, unlike in Arizona, Nevada’s state legislature leans Democratic (26-16 in the Assembly, 11-10 in the Senate). Nevada’s current Mormon congressman, Dean Heller, represents the largest geographic portion and the most rural portion of the state. But since Heller is a Republican, he could be targeted by the state legislature during redistricting. However, the newly elected Republican in the urban 1st district would seem a more likely target, in my opinion.
What makes Nevada particularly interesting for Mormons is that, unlike Arizona, it has a long history of Mormon politicians in both parties, and particularly strong Mormons among the Democrats. Rory Reid, son of Senator Harry Reid, was unsuccessful in his bid for governor this year, but has enough of a following that a bid for a congressional seat is very possible. There are enough Mormons in Nevada politics that another Mormon in Nevada’s congressional delegation is very possible.
When the Census Bureau releases its calculations of which states get additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, I’ll add a comment here with the information.