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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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Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.
However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.
West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.
Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.
Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.
The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.
Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.
However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.
Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.
In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.
No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.
While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.
The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.
Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.