February 21, 2024

1970. The Political Implications of the 1970 Census

The Midterm Elections
The opening session of the 92nd Congress on January 21, 1970 (photo by Marion S. Trikoskosource)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 12, 1970

The Ides of August are rapidly approaching, which means the nation's political bookmakers should be establishing the odds on the Republican and Democratic candidates for this November's off-year elections. The more than 30 Senate, 435 congressional, and a phalanx of state gubernatorial seats up for grabs in November have all been charted—and the party hopefuls have been weighed in, saliva-tested, and now are making training runs across the grassroots in preparation for the real campaign races which get underway around Labor Day.

However, this muggy mid-August season have really been the dog days for political prognosticators. The reason? The United States Census returns, which now are just beginning to be released by the Census Bureau. The data from the 1970 headcount records the migration of the electorate over the past ten years.

The preliminary census returns already show that for the first time in US history, more Americans live in the suburbs than those within the city limits and on the farms put together.

For Washington's political pros, it means further diminution of the once-powerful farm vote, and it probably means further concentration of Blacks and other minorities in the urban ghettos. But here too the statisticians are not sure because these families, too, are escaping the central core tenements and heading for exurbia.

The census indicates that every major city north of the so-called "Sun Belt" that runs from the Gulf Coast and across the Southwest to California has lost its population—a fact of great political and career significance to men like Mayors Lindsay of New York, Stokes of Cleveland, and Daley of Chicago.

California now is unchallenged as the most populous state in the Union, and if the figures stand up it means the state may get as many as four additional congressmen, while New York state may lose two seats in the next reapportionment of the House of Representatives.

Republican National Committee leaders here say they are most pleased with the demographic portrait now being painted by the Census Bureau. Democratic leaders are sad—as befits the party out of the White House this time of year.

So the summer book on the November elections will be late this year, because privately the political pros confess they just don't know.

Former Census Director Richard Scammon, now a private research specialist, says the 1970 and '72 elections will be settled in the suburbs—that's where the action is. But, says Scammon, neither political party can stake out a claim on the commuter vote—it's moving too much.

This is Bill Downs for ABC in Washington.