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Census Winners and Losers: It's Complicated

John Peeler: Thus the Republican base is shrinking, even in “Red” states, while the Democrats look more likely to hold their own, as urban losses are balanced by suburban gains.
Census Winners

The initial report from the 2020 Census is out. Gains and losses in House representation are:

Texas +2 

California -1

Colorado +1

Illinois -1

Florida +1

Michigan -1

Montana +1 

New York -1

N. Carolina +

Ohio -1

Oregon +1

Pennsylvania -1

W. Virginia -1

Much has been made of the shift of House seats (and Electoral College votes) from Blue to Red states, but this is oversimplified. First, the shift is notably smaller than in most recent censuses. Second, two of the winners (Colorado and Oregon) tend to vote Democratic, while two of the losers (Ohio and West Virginia) tend Republican. Third, Florida and North Carolina among the winners, and Michigan and Pennsylvania among the losers, all tend to be swing states. And even Texas is steadily becoming more competitive, due to long-term demographic change.

Thus the Republican base is shrinking, even in “Red” states, while the Democrats look more likely to hold their own, as urban losses are balanced by suburban gains.

Another issue is where control of reapportionment lies in each state. In California, Illinois and New York (among the losers) and Colorado and Oregon (among the winners) the Democrats will be in control. Republicans will control reapportionment in Texas, Florida and Montana (winners), and Ohio and West Virginia (losers). The other states have mixed control. And of course any reapportionment plan is subject to constitutional challenge in state or federal courts.

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Finally, more fine-grained data for each state will reveal where population gains and losses have occurred, and thus where congressional districts will need to be added or subtracted. But the broad national patterns are clear: suburban areas have been growing and rural areas have been shrinking. Rural areas tend to be heavily Republican, while suburbs have become less Republican as the party has fallen under the sway of Donald Trump. Cities (which tend to be Democratic) are also shrinking, but not as fast as rural areas.

Thus the Republican base is shrinking, even in “Red” states, while the Democrats look more likely to hold their own, as urban losses are balanced by suburban gains.

My own state, Pennsylvania, provides an example of each of these factors. It is, among the “swingiest” of swing states, but the Democrats hold a slight advantage statewide. Current congressional districts (18) are evenly split between the two parties. Both houses of the legislature are Republican, but the governor is Democratic (and the governor can veto any apportionment plan). So extreme gerrymandering is unlikely this time. In contrast, in 2011 the governor and legislature were all Republican, and there was an extremely gerrymandered map. That map was ultimately thrown out by the state supreme court as contrary to the state constitution. The state supreme court still has a Democratic majority that would check any Republican gerrymander.

Population trends in Pennsylvania tend to favor the Democrats, as the main centers of growth are in the suburban counties around Philadelphia (trending more Democratic), while population losses are concentrated in western counties (trending more Republican). So it is likely, all things considered, that Pennsylvania’s 9-9 balance will become 9-8 in favor of the Democrats.

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The national impact of the census looks to be minimal. California’s lost seat will likely be in the Central Valley, which tends to vote Republican. Texas’ two gained seats will come in the suburbs around Houston and Dallas, which are trending more Democratic. Florida is harder to predict, but the new seat will probably come around Orlando, and could tip either way. Only Montana looks like a sure Republican pick-up.

In sum: much ado about not much.

John Peeler