Shift In Demographics Could Lead To Seat Gains In Northwest Arkansas

Oct 16, 2019

Roby Brock speaks to Alice Stewart and Jamie Gates during October's meeting of the Political Animals Club.
Credit Sarah Kellogg - KUAR News / KUAR

A shift in the population across Arkansas will likely result in political gains for the northwest region of the state and a loss for the southeast in the Arkansas legislature as well as restructure Arkansas’s U.S. Congressional Districts.

During a meeting of the Political Animal’s Club on Wednesday, Jamie Gates, Executive Vice-President of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, outlined the population gains and losses predicted for the upcoming 2020 state redistricting.

Speaking on Arkansas’s U.S. Congressional Districts lines, Gates says District 3, which contains Fayetteville and Rogers, could see a gain of over 85,000 in population compared to 2010. District 2, which has Pulaski County, will see an increase of 16,500, while Districts 1 and 4 are predicted to lose a combined 100,000. According to Gates, those numbers do not exactly match with actual populations gains or losses in each area.

"It’s not necessarily how many people moved into or out of those districts. When we set a new number, here’s where you’re going to have to be,” Gates said. “So more people moved into the 3rd than 80,000, but because we all share in a growing population and Arkansas’s population has been slowly growing,  it’s becoming more suburban and urban and it’s been shifting from southeast to northwest."

He says those numbers represent the challenges in either gains or deficits these districts face. In addition to pointing out the changes in population, Gates also outlined possible solutions to equal out the districts demographically within the required 1 percent.

"How can you get rid of 80,500 people approximately from the 3rd? You can send Marion County over to the 1st, and you can send Pope down to the 4th and you are almost exactly at 80,500," Gates said.

For District 2, which would need to lose around 16,500 people, Gates suggests moving Van Buren County to District 1 instead.

According to Talk Business and Politics’ Roby Brock, that redistricting will occur at the state level in 2021. 

On a state legislative level, four of the five Arkansas Senate districts with the largest estimated gains are located in the northwest part of the state, with Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, leading with a gain of over 40,000.

Districts with the largest deficits are located in the southern and Delta regions of Arkansas. Gates says the problem in the northwest districts could be solved with the addition of another state senate seat. However, the problem for the districts with deficits is more complicated since they are all located next to each other.

"When they look to borrow votes, everywhere they look, they’re finding people who are short residents," Gates said. 

The easiest solution to even the district populations, according to Gates, would be to remove a Senate seat from the southeast part of the state, and add it to the northwest.

"Just having to smear and spread those northwest Arkansas districts down into southeast Arkansas is not doable," Gates said. 

Looking at the House, the situation is similar, with population gains expected in the northwest part of the state and losses in the southeast, likely resulting in a seat gain and loss respectively.

"It’s really your city and suburban oriented districts are growing…regardless of whether you’re in the northwest part of the state, southeast, Democrat, Republican," Gates said. 

CNN Political Commentator Alice Stewart spoke on the 2020 election from a national lens. On the Senate, she listed U.S. Senate races in Maine, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Texas as ones the Republican National Convention are focusing on. With the U.S. House, she does not see Republicans taking back control in 2020.