With midterm elections coming up in just over a year, the 2020 United States Census data could be the key for congressional hopefuls and could hold the secret to the success of President Biden’s agenda. The Flat Hat has compiled comprehensive data on where congressional seats were gained and lost, the growth in the U.S. population and how many students are affected by a change in representation in their home states.
From 2010 to 2020, population growth shifted mostly to the West and the Southeast. Colorado, Oregon and Montana all gained one seat. Further south, North Carolina and Florida also increased their representation. Texas experienced the largest increase in congressional representation this round with an additional two seats granted. According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, these new seats in the South are more likely to go to the Republicans, and these new district maps may be susceptible to gerrymandering by legislatures.
Although, this is not to say that the Democrats cannot recover from the loss. Professor John McGlennon is the chair of the government department at the College and runs the STATES election research program.
“The conventional wisdom was held that because Republicans hold more state governments, [they] will redraw lines,” McGlennon said. “However, it is not clear how the purely partisan impulse will be moderated by the ambitions of Republicans in states that are gaining seats, like Texas and Florida.”
The further release of the demographic data also sets Democrats in a stable position to challenge redistricting efforts that limit the voice of minority communities, almost all of which saw significant growth. The non-Hispanic white portion of the population fell by 6%, while those identifying as multiracial grew by 3.1 points to 3.3% of the population.
McGlennon expects a GOP advantage in these states, but also expects limits to the expansion of gerrymandering. One reason is that federal courts have imposed limits on the scope of drawing congressional districts based on race. Additionally, proposals have been made in Congress to limit gerrymandering, yet the chances for passage are slim for these measures.
Concerning population growth, the Midwest faces a somewhat bleaker picture. Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania all lost one seat along with New York. This is consistent with historical patterns, which show that the collapse of Midwestern manufacturing centers has shifted population centers away from these communities. What will come of Midwestern districts that will be eliminated is also slightly more complicated than the situation in the South. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have either divided governments or protections against gerrymandering, so it is unclear which party will gain seats here.
Kylie Doyle ’23, a public policy major from Pennsylvania, says that the loss of a district may benefit both Democrats and Republicans in some way.
“I know people are probably worried the lost district would be in western PA, which is likely, or somewhere in ‘Pennsyltucky,’ which is the rural/suburban area in the wide spread of land between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Doyle said. “If that’s the case it's almost definitely going to be a Republican, which would clearly benefit them to have a guaranteed seat.”
However, according to Doyle, there may be a silver lining for Democrats in the next presidential election. Even though Republicans in western Pennsylvania may have an easier election due to the loss of a district, and thus could focus time and money into a single race in a generally Republican area, this may disrupt the larger balance of power.
“I think it might make it easier for Pennsylvania overall to be less of a swing state and more consistently blue, since there will be one less district and it will probably end up just combining two red districts into one,” Doyle said.
In Illinois and New York, the Democrats control the redistricting process, so it stands to reason that the Democrats may expand their slim majority there. It is important to note, however, that Republicans will be the winners of the current redistribution of representation.
West Virginia was proportionally affected the most. Its congressional representation dropped from three to two, and its population decreased by 3.2%, the highest rate in the country. It is a solidly red state and has been since 2000, so reapportionment will most likely not change the partisan makeup of the congressional delegation.
Of the 6,256 full-time undergraduate students at the College, at least 769 will experience a change of representation in their home states. This data does not include Montana because there are fewer than five attendees of the College that call the Big Sky State home.
Texan student Jack Bratton ’24 has mixed feelings about reapportionment. He finds the Texas legislature somewhat hypocritical in their drawing of new districts.
“While I’m not against Texas gaining seats in general … I dislike that Texas is gaining seats for having undocumented immigrants while at the same time actively suppressing voting in any Hispanic-majority county,” Bratton said. “There’s an element of using the new districts to get political representation while not representing the people they’re counting.”
Texas’ population size is growing rapidly, and the phenomenon of population centers moving south and west largely centers on the Lone Star State. Coupled with relatively low taxes in the state and the fact that the state is large with ample, cheap real estate, Texas is an increasingly popular destination for those looking to relocate.
California is the big surprise in this reapportionment. Since the state’s admittance to the Union in 1850, it has never lost a seat in Congress due to reapportionment. However, in this census, there may have been some errors that contributed to this unprecedented change in representation.
“There are also questions about whether the Census may have undercounted some categories of residents, like Latino resident[s]. (Both citizens and non-citizens are supposed to be counted.)” McGlennon said as to why California lost.
Ultimately, only time will tell how the new districts will shift power in Congress, and with an increasingly polarized and dynamic electorate, the changes from this round of redistricting could be felt for years to come. Additionally, with the recent failure of S.1 in the Senate, influence of the drawing of new districts is likely to be an increasingly partisan process.