With the release of block-level data from the 2020 census, we now have a much clearer picture of how and where the US population has grown and declined over the past 10 years. And while Republicans are largely setting the terms of the redistricting process that will follow from this announcement, the data shows a much needed life preserver for Democrats.
It is not for the country increasing racial diversity, although. Sure, low current electoral coalitions (where white voters are more likely to vote Republicans and voters of color are more likely to vote Democrats), arguably better for Democrats if the non-white population grows. But even in a country where only 58 percent of residents are non-Hispanic whites, the 2020 presidential election was highly competitive. And electoral coalitions can change; for example, Republicans can continue gain ground among non-white voters in future elections.
Instead, the good news for Democrats came in which parts of the country population gained and lost since the 2010 census. Despite the country’s overall population increasing by 7.4 percent, rural areas, the reddest parts of the country, have lost residents for the past 10 years. The average county with a FiveThirtyEight urbanization index below 8 lost 3.1 percent of its population between 2010 and 2020. This encompasses the 1,430 most rural counties in the United States: 1,302 of which voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020, and only 127 of whom voted for President Biden.
In contrast, the fastest growing areas of the country are the suburbs. The average county with an urbanization index between 11 and 13 (ranging from scattered suburban areas such as Roanoke County, Virginia, to dense suburban areas such as Union County, New Jersey) grew 9.6 percent between 2010 and 2020. Most of these counties (194 out of 264) voted for Biden, and if the trends from the 2018 and 2020 elections continue, they will only get bluer.
I don’t think the 2020 census is good news for Democrats: Nate Silver
Cities in the United States also grew at a healthy rate, which was somewhat surprising compared to pre-census estimates. The 18 most urban counties or county equivalents in the country, those with a FiveThirtyEight urbanization index greater than 13 (including San Francisco, Philadelphia, four in Washington, DC, and eight in New York City), grew by an average of 8.4 percent, and all but one voted for Biden in 2020.
Overall, the average county that voted for Biden increased its population by 3.4 percent between 2010 and 2020, while the average Trump county grew only 0.2 percent. Surprisingly, 370 of the 538 Biden counties (69 percent) gained population, while 1,468 of the 2,574 Trump counties (57 percent) lost residents.
These population shifts are important because they will shape the nation’s political geography for the next 10 years, as Congressional district lines will be drawn based on this data. As such, it will now be much more difficult to draw maps of Congress that favor Republicans – if a heavily Democratic metropolitan area is packed with people, mapmakers should place them somewhere – which may require the creation of an additional (blue) district for that city, or at least including more blue districts in a neighboring Republican district than the Republican Party would like.
At the other end of the spectrum, because constituencies must have roughly equal populations, many unpopulated rural constituencies will need to expand, either cannibalizing a neighboring rural district (which could reduce the number of safe red seats) or encroaching on the suburbs. exteriors. . Because America’s exurbs are still pretty red (three-quarters of counties with a FiveThirtyEight urbanization index between 10 and 11 voted for Trump in 2020), this could reduce the number of Republicans living in today’s changing district. , a kind of redistricting domino effect.
We can see how this domino effect could play out by looking at which congressional districts, rather than counties, are overcrowded and underpopulated. To see this, we can compare the 2020 population of each current district to what your population should look like after the redistribution process. (Remember, because each state’s districts must have the same population, target population of a state’s districts is the state’s 2020 population divided by the number of congressional districts it received in redistricting.)
In the map below, orange districts will need to add population (that is, they will need to expand), while purple ones will need to lose population (that is, they will need to shrink).
The most obvious examples of districts that will need to expand are those of states that lost a seat in redistricting, such as West Virginia. But take a look at New York, which also lost a seat. The districts that will need to expand the most are in Upstate New York, while four New York City-based districts (the fifth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth) will actually need shed residents. Since all of those districts are extremely blue, that will give cartographers an opportunity to add Democratic votes to nearby districts that might not be as safe, like 11.
Similarly, in Illinois, the districts around Chicago are already closest to their target population after redistricting, while districts 12 and 17 of the downstream state will need to add the most people. And because Illinois also lost a seat in redistricting, the upstate will most likely lose representation. Given that five of the six current Illinois state representatives are Republicans (and Democrats control the mapping process in Illinois), it’s a safe bet that Republicans will draw the short glass.
At the same time, population growth patterns could also slow Republican advances. For example, the two current most overcrowded districts in North Carolina, which is gaining a seat, are second deep blue (which covers Raleigh) and 12 (which covers Charlotte). Republicans are in charge of redistricting in North Carolina, but they would have to engage in a complicated gymnastics of manipulation if they want to mitigate the political power of these metropolitan areas. Similarly, Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has Estimate that explosive population growth in urban areas like Austin could limit Texas Republicans to a map in which Republicans have the upper hand in just 25 of the state’s now 38 districts, whereas previously they could have garnered 27 seats from Republican trend.
However, as Wasserman’s estimate makes clear, the 2020 census population trends are not enough to cancel any manipulation efforts. Rather, the census numbers are simply a ray of light for Democrats. They still remain at a serious disadvantage in the 2021 redistricting cycle simply because Republicans will control the redistricting of more congressional districts. Republicans will have full control over the redesign of 43 percent of Congressional districts, and Democrats will have full control over the redesign of just 17 percent. (Neither party enjoys full control of redistricting for 38 percent of districts, while the remaining 1 percent are general districts and will not be redistricted at all.)
So Democrats got good news with the specific census data released earlier this month, but they are still in an unenviable position. As long as redistricting remains such a subjective process, who draws the maps will remain more important than the underlying data.
Geoffrey Skelley contributed research.