Census Results Influence Congressional Map

In the once-every-decade process or reapportioning Congressional seats, the Sunbelt will once again be gaining at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest.
by | December 21, 2010

In the once-every-decade process of reapportioning Congressional seats, the Sunbelt will once again be gaining at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest.

At a briefing today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that eight states will be gaining seats in Congress; 10 states will be losing seats. The number of seats is calculated through a formula that allots one seat to every state and then allocates the rest based on how many people live in each state.

The winners from the 2010 Census are Texas (gaining four seats) and Florida (two), with one additional seat each for Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

The states losing seats are New York and Ohio (two each) and one each for Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.

Minnesota and North Carolina were scrambling for the 435th Congressional seat. Minnesota ended up keeping its eight seats, denying North Carolina the chance to expand from 13 to 14. The switch of just 15,700 people would have switched that result.

In recent decades, the U.S. population has shifted from the north and the east to the south and the west. As a result, the Sunbelt, including Florida, has gained influence in Congress.

"There were no big surprises," said Tim Storey, a political analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It speaks volumes to the accuracy of the estimates and projections."

The last time a state north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Continental Divide gained a House seat was 1960. Meanwhile, this represents the first time the West has had more seats than the Midwest.

California retains the biggest state delegation at 53 seats, but it did not gain any -- the first time since the 1930 census that that has happened.

Texas remains second biggest, with its delegation growing from 32 to 36. Florida's two-seat gain and New York's two-seat decline moves them into a tie for third for 27 seats each.

Over the next year or so, state legislators (or in some cases, bipartisan commissions) will redraw Congressional district lines, often with a partisan edge in mind. The GOP gains in the 2010 state elections put the party on enhanced footing in a wide range of states, though the large Republican electoral gains in Congress means that some seats that might have been shifted from Democratic to Republican via redistricting were rendered moot by a GOP victory at the ballot box.

All told, the GOP is expected to gain seats from the current redistricting process, but the more important gains may well be shoring up freshman Republicans who won marginal districts in the 2010 GOP wave.

Another important impact of today's announcements will be on the presidential vote in 2012. President Barack Obama lost a net of a half-dozen electoral votes with the shifts unveiled today, based on the states he won in 2008. But he would still have won the electoral vote comfortably under the new counts. Whether he can do it again in two years remains to be seen.

Each member of the House will represent 710,767 people, an increase over 647,000 following the 2000 Census. The first Congress had one lawmaker for every 30,000 people, a rate that would require roughly 10,000 seats today.

Overall, the national population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538, the slowest growth in decades, possibly due to a combination of broader demographic trends and lower immigration and birthrates during the recession.

On a percentage basis, Nevada (35.1), Arizona (24.6) and Utah (23.8) grew fastest during the last decade.

If the Census had only used citizens to calculate the reapportionment, rather than all "inhabitants" as the Constitution requires. several states would have fared worse than they did, especially a handful of large states with large Hispanic populations that include illegal immigrants as well as legal immigrants who have not become naturalized citizens.

Texas would have gained only two new seats rather than four, New York would have lost three seats rather than losing two, Florida would have gained one seat rather than two, and California would have lost five seats rather than staying even, according to an estimate by PoliData.

States that would have fared better under a citizens-only count are: Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania, which would have stayed even rather than losing a seat; Ohio, which would have lost one seat rather than two; and Indiana, Montana, North Carolina and Oklahoma, which would have gained a seat rather than staying even.

Meanwhile, the outflow of people after Hurricane Katrina not only cost Louisiana a seat -- the only southern state to shrink this decade -- but likely made possible one of the four seats Texas is gaining, due to resettlement by those affected by the flooding.

Republicans will have a free hand in drawing 210 of the 435 congressional seats, with Democrats controlling just a quarter of that number, according to the political demographic firm Election Data Services. "The Republicans are better placed than they have been in decades" to draw their own maps, said Clark Bensen a political demographer with the firm PoliData. But he added that "it really depends on where the population shifts are in the states, as well as lots of other dynamics."


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