On Monday, the Census Bureau released the latest population numbers. According to the census, the U.S. population is now 331 million, a 7.4 percent increase from the 308 million recorded in 2010. Although the population is still going up, this marks one of the slowest rates of growth in our country’s history.
What does that tell us about the next decade of American politics? It tells us that we are likely to see power shift toward Republican-leaning states.
What does that tell us about the next decade of American politics? It tells us that we are likely to see power shift toward Republican-leaning states and that we are definitely going to see more political power shift from the coasts to the South and Western states. We’ll be able to test at least some of these theories soon — as early as the 2022 midterms.
The constitutionally required census numbers determine the shape of Congress. Every decade, seats in the House are reallocated between states. This process, called reapportionment, determines political power for the next 10 years. Since the law only allows for 435 members of the House, some states will gain seats while others will lose theirs.
Who are the winners this time around? Texas has gained two seats and will now have 38 U.S. representatives; Florida, North Carolina and Colorado also gained one seat each. Losers include Midwestern and Rust Belt states that have been experiencing declining populations for decades, including Illinois, New York, Ohio and Michigan. More surprisingly, California, usually a high-growth state, also lost a seat.
But even the big winners didn’t get as much as expected. Many thought Texas would gain three seats and Florida would gain two. And in some cases the losers barely lost — New York, for instance, came within 89 people (no, that’s not a typo) of retaining a seat that it ultimately lost to Minnesota. (New York’s population did increase, despite some estimates that it would remain static.)
One possible explanation for these changes is that the delays produced by the Covid-19 pandemic led to unusual results, as some people didn’t respond to the census or had temporarily moved locations. Another possibility is that the Trump administration’s efforts to change some of the census rules did indeed have consequences. Under former President Donald Trump, the Census Bureau had proposed not counting undocumented immigrants — for the first time ever. Ultimately this effort did not succeed, but the uncertainty may have led many Hispanics to be wary of census-takers, producing shortfalls in Hispanic-heavy states such as Arizona, Texas and Florida, where some analysts anticipated gains (especially in Arizona, which surprisingly didn’t gain any seats at all).
These results matter for both the House and the presidency: Overall, states that supported Trump in 2016 gained five seats. This will have potential benefits for Republicans in both the House and the next presidential election.
In the House, Republican-controlled states can redistrict to benefit themselves by redrawing district lines that create more Republican-held seats. In the Electoral College, which is calculated based on representation in the House, red states’ five seats narrow the margins and so-called paths to victory for any Democratic presidential hopeful. Think the 2020 election results were close? They may soon be that much closer. As one commentator cheekily noted, a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College also now becomes a more realistic possibility as well.
Perhaps most frustrating for Democrats, as red states gain in population while blue states like California, Illinois and New York lose population, the nation’s politics may tilt more toward the priorities of those red states.
The census results also underscore the importance of the congressional debate currently happening over potential statehood for Washington, D.C., with everyone on both sides assuming the District of Columbia would elect two Democratic senators and a Democrat to the House.
More than ever, with control of both the House and Senate in one party’s hands by the narrowest of margins, any changes to the number of states could have enormous ramifications for politics and policy in the United States. That includes who controls the House next fall, setting the stage for the second half of President Joe Biden’s first term.