Political power in the United States will continue to shift south this decade, as historically Democratic states that border the Great Lakes give up congressional seats and electoral votes to regions where Republicans currently enjoy a political advantage, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
At the same time, four northern states with Democratic governors that President Biden won in 2020 — Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — will each lose a single congressional seat. Ohio, a nearby Republican-leaning state, will also lose a seat in Congress.
The data released Monday was better for Democrats than expected, as earlier Census Bureau estimates had suggested the congressional gains in Florida and Texas would be even bigger. The margins in certain states that determined the final congressional counts were razor thin, with New York losing a seat because of a shortfall of only 89 people.
The numbers are the first to emerge from one of the most challenging population counts in the nation’s history, one disrupted by a global pandemic. Trump, during his term, also pushed to add a citizenship question and exclude undocumented immigrants from the census.
The release marked the start to a constitutionally mandated effort to redraw congressional districts across the country in advance of the 2022 elections, a tangled and litigious process that is likely to benefit Republican officeholders more than Democratic ones next year. That stands as a stark threat to Democratic control of the House, which will rest on a seven-vote margin, with four outstanding vacancies, once newly elected Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.) takes office in the coming weeks.
The results show that the country grew over the past decade by the second-slowest rate in history, owing to an aging population, decreased fertility and slowing immigration. A slightly lower rate of growth was recorded between 1930 and 1940, a decade that encompassed the Great Depression.
Only seven of the 435 congressional seats will be reapportioned under the latest population count. Five of the seven states that lost a House seat voted for Biden, and five of the seven newly created seats will be added to states that voted for Trump.
The full partisan effect of the shifts will not be known for months, as states must sift through population data that will be released later this year to draw new congressional district lines, resulting in hundreds of decisions by state lawmakers and independent commissions about the partisan makeup of each individual district.
Partisan line-drawers will face numerous choices between creating fewer competitive seats that will protect their incumbent reelections and more ambitious maps that could allow greater shifts in political control later in the decade as population changes continue to transform the electorate.
But Republican control of the redistricting process in states such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina is likely to increase the number of congressional contests where Republicans have a chance of winning, observers say. Republicans will control line-drawing for 187 congressional seats over the coming year, with Democrats controlling 75 seats, while the remaining seats that need to be drawn will be decided by independent commissions or divided governments, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“Redistricting favors Republicans, but it is not going to win back the majority on its own,” said Mike Thom, battleground director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. But, he added, “you could see many Republicans drawn into safer seats, which will free up resources to go on offense.”
Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said that he does not expect Monday’s announcement to result in a partisan shift on its own. But by the end of the process next year, after lawmakers and commissions have drawn new district lines, he expects Republicans to have a new advantage. He said Democrats will gain between five and 15 safe seats in Congress, while Republicans pick up 20 to 30 reliable seats.
“It will be incumbent on the census over the next few months to spell out the accuracy of these counts,” Kincaid said about the narrow results. “Obviously, we were hoping for more seats in Texas and Florida.”
Census officials said Monday that narrow margins in some states were not an unexpected result. “We are very confident in the data released today,” said Victoria Velkoff, the bureau’s associate director for demographic programs.
Democrats are preparing their own plans to block Republican efforts to draw more safe Republican seats in these growing states, setting up a costly and contentious battle that is likely to be settled in the courts in states such as Florida, Texas and North Carolina.
“The reason that they are gaining seats is because of growth from voters that tend to vote Democratic,” said Kelly Ward Burton, executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “The growth is happening in the Latino community, in the Black community, in the suburbs. It is an increase in young people. If they draw fair maps in those states, Democrats should pick up seats.”
In other parts of the country, the shifts in population will have a less obvious effect on partisan power.
The Democratic stronghold of California will lose a seat for the first time in its history, but that will be offset by gains of congressional representation in nearby states such as Colorado and Oregon, which have both trended toward Democrats in recent years. Montana, a once-purple state that has moved to the GOP in recent years, will also gain a seat.
The census announcement was a relief for Minnesota, Rhode Island and Alabama, which each had been projected to lose a seat in the new count, but will instead maintain the same congressional representation over the next decade.
Republicans will lose a member of Congress in West Virginia, where the all-GOP delegation will shrink from three to two, as the state’s population has shrunk over the past decade by 3.2 percent, the largest loss of any state in the country.
“It’s not fun and it’s a symptom of some long-standing problems we have had in West Virginia that have caused people to leave,” state Sen. Charles Trump (R) said of the continued reduction in his state’s federal power. “But I have strong hope in our future.”
Similar long-term demographic and migratory trends have affected northern states that border the Great Lakes for decades. The manufacturing industry has struggled, the population has grown older, and younger people have chosen to move away. After the 1920 Census, the eight states that border the Great Lakes elected 175 members of Congress. In 2022, they will elect 113 members, a decline of more than a third.
“The Midwest states for the most part, and western New York and western Pennsylvania, they have more folks who are older and less folks who are younger,” said Rolf Pendall, a professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “You have more people passing away as a percent of the total, and you have fewer people being born there.”
Those same Midwestern states, however, are expected to maintain a primacy in future presidential contests, as the Frost Belt has shown a steady pattern of switching partisan allegiances in recent contests. Under the Constitution, the presidential election is decided by the electoral college, with electors assigned to each state based on the number of Congress members that they elect.
Biden defeated Trump by a margin of 306 to 232 electors in 2020. If the result was repeated in 2024 under the new apportionment, with the Democratic and Republican candidates winning same states, the Democrat would still win comfortably, by a margin of 303 to 235.
Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.