The Next Presidential Election Just Got a Little Bit Easier for the GOP

But they didn’t benefit as much as earlier Census estimates had suggested.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, census worker Jennifer Pope wears a mask and sits by ready to help at a U.S. Census walk-up counting site set up for Hunt County in Greenville, Texas, Friday, July 31, 2020.

The first official numbers from the 2020 Census have officially arrived, and overall, it’s bad news for Democrats.

The results released Monday showed that due to population shifts, a number of GOP-leaning states will earn new House seats and more clout in the Electoral College, while a number of slower-growing blue states lost seats.

Because of these population shifts, states that former President Trump won in 2020 will have three more Electoral College votes in the next decade, and states that President Biden carried will have three fewer votes. 

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Republican-leaning Texas is the sole state that will gain two House seats and two Electoral College votes. Other states that will add a House seat in the next election are the GOP-leaning states of Florida, Montana, and North Carolina, as well as Democratic-leaning Colorado and Oregon.

California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia will each lose one House seat. This is the first time since California became a state that it lost a House seat in reapportionment, the once-a-decade process of reassigning House seats based on population shifts. Biden carried all of these states except Ohio and West Virginia.

That’s a three-seat shift—enough to swing a close presidential election.

The Census is a constitutionally-mandated count of every person living in the U.S. The population counts announced on Monday will be used for how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state has for the next decade.

The new Census numbers show that the U.S. population grew by 7.4 percent in the past decade to 331.4 million people, the second-slowest decade-long growth rate in U.S. history.

It appears that the shifts will benefit the GOP in the fight for House control as well, though that’s less clear than it is for the battle for the presidency. 

But reapportionment is only the first step in the once-a-decade brawl over congressional lines known as redistricting. That process of drawing new congressional and state legislative seats, which is done in most states by partisan state lawmakers, will have a much bigger impact on which party strengthens its chances to win House control in 2022 and future elections.

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The Census has yet to release its detailed population results, which will show what areas within states grew or lost population, and it’s unclear how aggressive politicians will be in drawing maps friendly to their parties, so it’s not entirely clear how much of an advantage each party can wring out of gerrymandering in specific states. And while Republicans control more states, Democratic-leaning populations are growing much faster in a number of those states, meaning Republicans risk drawing maps that backfire on them in future years if they’re too aggressive and draw too many Republican-leaning seats.

It appears that the GOP has the upper hand in drawing congressional districts as well, as they have control of more state governments. But Republicans aren’t quite as powerful as they were a decade ago, when state-level gerrymanders helped them keep House control for much of the past decade. Democrats hold more governorships than they did a decade ago, and a number of states have passed laws aimed at limiting how much state lawmakers can rig the maps in their party’s favor.

Democrats breathed a sigh of relief that the 2020 Census results weren’t worse for them, though. While the latest Census confirmed the decades-long population shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, this decade’s shifts were smaller than earlier estimates had predicted. 

Alabama, Minnesota and Rhode Island avoided losing any congressional seats, as earlier Census estimates had predicted, while Arizona, Florida and Texas all missed out on adding another seat to their House delegations.

Census experts said Monday that New York barely lost its one seat — it was just 89 people short. But losing one seat was actually better than what some New York lawmakers had expected—they worried they would lose two seats due to slow population growth.

The data release on Monday comes months behind the Census’ original schedule, as the combined impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the Trump administration’s unsuccessful fight to omit undocumented immigrants from states’ population counts, slowed the overall results.

“We look forward to determining the redistricting data no later than Sept. 30,” Commerce Department Director Gina Raimondo said during the announcement.