As lawmakers across the nation begin the once-a-decade process of redrawing their congressional boundaries, a significant migration of blacks from cities to suburbs is having a widespread political impact.
According to newly released census numbers, eight of the nation’s top majority-black districts lost an average of more than 10 percent of their African American populations. That will provide an opportunity for Republican lawmakers, who control an increasing number of statehouses following last fall’s elections, to reshape districts in suburban swing areas of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere.
Dozens of seats could become easier for Republicans to hold on to, with a half-dozen or so becoming prime pickup opportunities for the party, according to political strategists.
“The practical effect is great for the GOP,” said Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “In state after state, it’s allowing Republicans to pack more heavily Democratic close-in suburbs into urban black districts to make surrounding districts more Republican.”
The migration of blacks to the suburbs is also having an impact in the Washington area, where the African American population in the District dropped 11 percent over the last decade, while suburban Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) gained more black voters than anyone outside of the fast-growing Atlanta area.
Fellow Maryland Democrats Donna F. Edwards and Chris Van Hollen also gained large numbers of black voters. Unlike some other places, though, those lawmakers are not likely to be greatly affected, since Democrats control the redistricting process in Maryland.
The 1982 amendment of the Voting Rights Act led to the creation of many legislative districts, particularly in the South, in which minorities became the majority populations. The idea was to give minority voters a chance to elect candidates of their choice. Over time, these districts encountered legal challenges and setbacks, including at the Supreme Court, over questions of racial gerrymandering.
Initially, these districts were a boon to Democrats, creating opportunities in places where the party struggled to win. But over the last few rounds of redistricting, Republicans have made a habit of “packing” as many reliably Democratic black voters into as few districts as possible, virtually guaranteeing black representation for those districts while also making nearby ones more winnable for the GOP.