Release of Detailed 2020 Census Data Sets the Stage for 2022 Midterm Congressional Elections

Release of Detailed 2020 Census Data Sets the Stage for 2022
Midterm Congressional Elections 1

The final report of the 2020 Census that will be used to redraw lines for congressional districts within 44 states was released by the Census Bureau on Thursday, setting the stage for redistricting battles in state legislatures around the country.

The process of redrawing congressional district boundaries has the potential of changing the majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 midterm elections from Democrats to Republicans.

Thursday’s report added demographic detail at the census tract level within each state, a more granular analysis than the 2020 Census data released in April, which offered aggregate data at the state level.

“Our current outlook: a GOP gain of 0-7 House seats from redistricting alone, w/ a high initial degree of uncertainty,” Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report tweeted on Thursday just as the new census data was released:

If Republicans add seven seats, the current balance in the House of Representatives of 222 Democrats and 213 Republicans in the 116th Congress would change to 220 Republicans to 215 Democrats in the 117th Congress, which is scheduled to convene in January 2023.

In April, when the preliminary 2020 census data was released, the New York Times reported, “seven states will lose seats while six will gain.”

Texas will add two seats and Florida one. The fast-growing states of Montana and Oregon will each add one seat, as will Colorado and North Carolina. Montana’s second seat comes after 30 years of having just a single at-large district.

At the same time, the big states of the Midwest and Northeast that historically have backed Democrats will lose congressional seats and the electoral votes that come with them. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will each lose one district. California’s loss of one seat reflects the slowing population growth of the nation’s largest state.

“The detailed data needed to draw official district lines won’t be released until the fall. But Republicans, who only need to pick up five seats to win back the House, enter the upcoming mapping wars with a clear advantage,” Wasserman wrote at the Cook Political Report after the release of that aggregate state level 2020 Census data in April:

The reapportionment counts alone offer a small net boost for Republicans: had the 2020 presidential election been held under the new apportionment counts, President Biden would have won the White House with 303, rather than 306, electoral votes.

But after Thursday’s release of the detailed data, Wasserman wrote an article published on Friday at the Cook Poltical Report entitled, “New Census Dataset Mostly Good News for Democrats.”:

First, the major Latino undercount many Democrats and minority advocacy groups feared didn’t materialize, throwing cold water on theories about a Trump-induced chilling effect on census participation. Hispanic residents were 18.7 percent of the U.S. population in the 2020 Census, in line with pre-census estimates and up from 16.3 percent in the 2010 Census. Non-Hispanic whites fell from 64 percent to just 57.8 percent of the population. . .

Second, urban areas in general fared better than expected in today’s population counts. New York City counted a massive seven percent more residents than pre-census estimates suggested, and Chicago’s Cook County tallied three percent more. That should marginally help Democrats draw more favorable districts in Illinois and New York to offset expected GOP gerrymandering gains in Texas, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, most rural counties (and 52 percent of all counties) reported population losses since 2010, and many reported even weaker numbers than expected. That could make it slightly more challenging for GOP mapmakers to dilute urban and suburban Democratic votes. In Texas, for example, it could make the strategic difference between Republicans settling for a 25-13 map versus attempting a 27-11 gerrymander.

“The new detailed population data from the 2020 Census will serve as the building block to redraw 429 U.S. House districts in 44 states and 7,383 state legislative districts across the U.S. The official goal is to ensure each district has roughly the same number of people,” the Associated Press reported.

Republicans control the state legislatures in 20 of those states, with a total number of 187 House seats. Democrats control the state legislatures in eight of those states, with a total number of 75 House seats. The remaining 16 states, with a total of 173 House seats, have either split legislatures or independent commissions.

Over the next several months, intense political battles over the redrawing of congressional district lines are expected in all 44 of these states, with each party developing detailed data analyses that support the redrawing of lines to maximize the number of seats their party is likely to win in 2022.

Charges of gerrymandering have already been hurled back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. That atmosphere of intense political combat, both out front and behind the scenes, is likely to intensify, as the country continues to be so deeply divided and the balance of power in 2022 may hang on which party has the most effective redistricting arguments in place in each state legislature.

The most recent 2022 Generic Congressional ballot polls reported at Real Clear Politics indicate a sharp drop in support for Democrat candidates in recent months. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted in July showed Democrats with a plus one percent advantage over Republicans, within the margin of error, down from the same poll in April, which showed Democrats with a plus nine percent advantage over Republicans.

The Constitution requires that the federal government conduct a census every ten years, and that seats in the U.S. House of Representatives “shall be apportioned among the several States,” (Article 1, Section 2) based on their population in the following Congressional election. The drawing of Congressional District lines within each state is left to the state legislature.

The number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives has held steady at 435 since the 1963. With a nationwide population tally for the 50 states (less the District of Columbia, which does not have a representative in the U.S. House of Representatives) at 330 million, that means on average, each House member will represent about 761,000 people.

The six states with the smallest population (Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Delaware) have only one member of the U.S. House of Representatives each. Consequently, their state legislatures will not redraw congressional district boundaries in advance of the 2020 midterm elections.

As the Census Bureau reported in April, “Delaware will have the largest average district size (990,837), while Montana will have the smallest average district size (542,704).”

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