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New census numbers shift political power south and west to GOP strongholds

April 28, 2021

Political power in the United States will continue to shift south and west 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.

Texas, Florida, and North Carolina—three states that voted twice for Donald Trump—are set to gain a combined four additional seats in Congress in 2023 because of population growth, granting them collectively as many new votes in the electoral college for the next presidential election as Democratic-leaning Hawaii has in total, The Washington Post reports.

At the same time, four northern states with Democratic governors that President Biden won in 2020 — Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York —each will lose a single congressional seat. Ohio, a nearby Republican-leaning state, also will lose a seat in Congress.

The data—released on Monday, April 26—were 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 Post notes.

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 Representative Troy Carter (D-Louisiana) 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.

According to the Post, 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.

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.

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.

Research contact: @washingtonpost