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2020 figures show increases among voting groups that have been swinging to Democrats
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Take a map showing population shifts across the South over the last 10 years and put it over a map of where Joe Biden performed best in 2020, and the connection will appear obvious.
The counties in the South that have gained population — large cities and surrounding suburbs — are the same places where Biden did well; the counties that shrank — rural areas and small towns — were places where Donald Trump rolled.
New, detailed, local-level data released August 12 by the U.S. Census Bureau show that when Republicans across the South redraw lines for congressional and legislative districts to equalize population, maximizing their partisan advantage will be much trickier than it was a decade ago.
True, Republicans will still control the entire process in every Southern state except Louisiana and Virginia, which will give them ample opportunity to draw favorable maps. But this slicing and dicing will still have to account for the fact that the sheer number of hostile voters is growing at such a pace that gerrymandering will become ever more difficult.
The geographic partisan divide reflects another shift that has negative implications for the GOP — the Southern electorate is becoming less white.
In every Southern state except for South Carolina and Tennessee, the percentage of the population that self-classifies as white dropped — in some cases, dramatically. In Texas, it dropped 17.5%; in Florida, 12%. There are now five Southern states — Texas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana — where the white population is less than 60%, giving Democrats a base on which to build.
While the black population nationwide has been relatively stable since 2010, it grew faster than the national average in every Southern state except Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, as the reverse migration of African Americans back to the region continues.
The most notable population change in the 2020 census was among Hispanic residents, who grew nationwide by 23% and now make up nearly 19% of the total population. But every Southern state except Texas saw the Hispanic population grow even faster than the national average, making them a much more visible presence in areas where they have previous had little political impact.
For decades, the bedrock of Republican strength in the South has been white voters in rural areas, small towns and suburbs, offsetting Democrat strength among African American voters and inner-city urban voters. Maps featuring suburban-rural districts have thus been used to maximum effect.
However, the population shifts in the new census numbers will dictate that rural districts with shrinking populations will have to expand to include more suburban territory, at the same time that Southern suburbs are becoming less reliably Republican.
In Georgia, for example, three counties in the Atlanta urban-suburban core — Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb — added 376,000 people over the last decade. Joe Biden carried all three, and Democrats have flipped two U.S. House seats here and gained a dozen state legislative seats. So can new lines be drawn to account for both the population boost and the political shift?
In Texas, eight counties added more than 200,000 each during the decade, a total of 2.5 million people combined, and all were in major metro areas — Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. By contrast, 144 counties lost population. So when legislators draw two new U.S. House districts, they will almost certainly have to be rooted in metro areas where Democrats have made gains.
This is not to suggest, of course, that Republican hegemony in the South is threatened in the short-term by these population shifts. Hispanic voters remain a relatively small part of the electorate outside of Florida and Texas, white voters are more monolithically Republican than in much of the rest of the country, and the suburbs remain competitive.
But amid unprecedented scrutiny of the map-making process — with activist groups ready to pounce on maps they feel are unfair — drawing new political lines that maximize Republican gains will be a fraught process.
The legal fight over Texas’s 2010 maps didn’t end until 2018. We can expect the same this time around, and probably in more places.
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U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.
And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.
Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.
That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.
In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.
Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.
In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.
“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“
Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light
In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.
Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.
Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.
State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.
The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.
Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.
Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.
Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.
Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.
Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.