The U.S. Census Bureau announced its once-in-a-decade reapportionment totals Monday, bestowing new congressional districts and electoral votes upon certain states while taking them away from others.
First, the gainers:
- Texas +2
- Colorado +1
- Florida +1
- Montana +1
- North Carolina +1
- Oregon +1
And now the losers:
- California -1
- Illinois -1
- Michigan -1
- New York -1
- Ohio -1
- Pennsylvania -1
- West Virginia -1
Below are some takeaways from the announcement.
1. The surprises
If there was one surprise in the announcement Monday, it was that we didn’t see bigger shifts. We expected as many as 10 seats to migrate from one state to another, but in the end it was just seven.
Some of the biggest news:
- Minnesota avoided losing a seat very narrowly — to the point that New York would have taken the seat if it had just 89 more people. (Respond to the census, people!)
- Texas gains only two seats, rather than three.
- Florida gains only one seat, rather than two.
- Rhode Island will not lose one of its two House seats, after all.
- Arizona doesn’t gain a seat, after all.
Fine population margins can make the difference between a state losing or gaining a congressional district and an electoral vote. And there were questions on the eve of Monday’s announcement about in which direction some shifts might land. But generally speaking, most of the above is pretty surprising.
2. The biggest winners and losers
It’s clear who the biggest winners and losers are in the current round: the small states. Montana will now double its representation in the House (going from one to two seats) and is moving from three to four electoral votes. Rhode Island, meanwhile, surprisingly maintains its two-member House delegation and its four electoral votes. West Virginia, meanwhile, loses one of its three districts and one of its five electoral votes.
Given the fine population margins, all three are big for those states.
But those are still relatively small prizes in both presidential elections and the House. And the trends over time in certain, bigger states are particularly remarkable:
- New York has steadily declined from 45 districts in the 1940s to 26 today. On the plus side, it’s the first reapportionment since then that it hasn’t lost multiple seats.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Florida has gained seats in every reapportionment over the same span, growing from eight in the 1950s to 28 today. It now takes sole possession of the third-biggest electoral vote prize and House delegation — behind California and Texas — after previously sharing those with New York.
- No, it didn’t gain three seats as it might have hoped, but Texas continues to be the winner among winners, growing from just 26 electoral votes as recently as 1980 to 40 today. That also comes with the asterisk that Democrats have made the state increasingly competitive, but they didn’t come nearly as close to winning it as they had hoped in 2020, still losing it by more than five points in the presidential election.
- California, which has confronted unusually sluggish population growth, lost a district for the first time ever.
3. The continued shift toward red states
Any time data like this drops, our reflex is to look at what it means practically speaking in our politics — i.e. which party gains. And that’s extremely valid given that we’ve just had two very closely decided electoral-college elections, not to mention a 2000 race that hinged on literally two electoral votes (all of which accounts for three of the past six elections).
We also have a very closely divided House, in which the number of districts in a given state could literally decide who has the majority after the 2022 election.
To be clear, just because a red state gains seats doesn’t mean those districts will go red, and vice versa for a blue state. But seats and electoral votes migrating from red states to blue states or the other way around at least present opportunities, especially when one party or the other gets to draw the new maps through the upcoming redistricting process.
So what does the new breakdown mean from a partisan perspective?
All told, five seats will migrate from blue states to red ones — owing to population shifts from the Rust Belt, the Northeast and California to the South and other portions of the West.
Five of the seven seats being added also go to states under complete GOP control of redistricting, with three of seven being taken away coming from states in which Democrats have some measure of control over the maps. Other states have more divided control or redistricting commissions.
That should help Republicans, at least marginally, draw better House maps for 2022. The Cook Political Report estimates the shifts are worth about 3.5 seats which, if no other seat shifted in the coming midterm election, would put the House near-even (either 218-217 or 219-216 in Democrats’ favor, versus the current 222-213).
As for the electoral college in future presidential elections, it’s more of a mixed bag. Two states that are losing seats — Michigan and Pennsylvania — went for President Biden in 2020 but also for Donald Trump in 2016. But those are states Democrats probably need to win in the near future, meaning it’s probably a bigger loss for them.
The best perspective might be how things have shifted in the electoral college over time. If we reran the 2020 electoral college with the new electoral votes by state, Biden’s margin would shrink from 306-232 to 303-235. That seems negligible. But if you overlay the 2000 presidential results — three reapportionments ago — on the current electoral vote totals, George W. Bush’s narrow win with 271 electoral votes becomes a much more decisive win with 290. That gives you a sense where things have trended.
This is the Democrats’ longer-term challenge when it comes to population shifts — a challenge also reflected both on the House and Senate maps, where Democrats need to win majorities of the popular vote to hold majorities.
That said, the shift from blue states to red states wasn’t quite as big as some expected, particularly given the lower-than-expected numbers in Florida and Texas. And if Democrats can take something away from this, it’s that blue states weren’t hit harder.