Likely Changes in US House Seat Distribution for 2020

Posted by Theodore Landsman on December 30, 2016

Last week, Real Clear Politics extrapolated demographic trends to project which states are likely to gain or lose U.S. House seats in the reapportionment that will occur after the 2020 Census. Their forecast, shown below, has nine states losing one U.S. House seat and six states gaining seats. These are only projections, but given that we are now six years into the decade, many of the demographic shifts of the decade are already well advanced and difficult to reverse.

 

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Overall, we see a reduced number of U.S. House seats is likely for many states in the “rust belt”, including Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Minnesota, Rhode Island and Alabama will also likely lose House seats due to below average population growth.  Each of these states is projected to lose one congressional representative.

Of these nine states, only in West Virginia has the population decreased since the last census in 2010 (Illinois’ population decreased in 2014 and  2015, but is still up compared to 2010). The other states losing seats are growing  in population, but at a rate slower than the national average.

Meanwhile gains in U.S. House seats are likely to be concentrated in Texas and Florida, which stand to gain three and two congressional representatives respectively. Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon are also likely to gain one seat each. Three of these states are in the southwest, a region that has been consistently growing faster than the rest of the country for the several decades.

Implications for the Presidency and control of the U.S. House

RCP’s projection of losses and gains in 2020 U.S. House result in a gain of two U.S. House members and electoral votes in states that swung Republican this election. This may increase the chances of a Republican candidate winning the presidency in 2024, while also reducing the likelihood of Republican control of the U.S. House in 2022.

In Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the electorate is closely divided between the two parties, and Democratic voters are geographically concentrated into just a few districts, meaning Democrats currently win a far lower percentage of U.S. House seats than their statewide vote share. This protects them from demographic shifts, and means that the seats eliminated will likely have to be Republican seats. The seat lost by Alabama will also likely be Republican. Two states, Rhode Island and West Virginia, are projected to be lose one seat: a solidly Democratic seat and a solidly Republican seat respectively. Rhode Island in particular would be down to a single congressional district, bringing the total number of states that elect a single at-large congressperson up to 8.

Likely seat losses in New York, Minnesota, and Illinois will be highly contested and partisan outcomes will hinge on the  shifts in population that underlie the loss of House seats in these states. New York and Minnesota are both experiencing declines in their rural and suburban populations even as New York City and the Twin Cities continue to grow, shifting the balance of power in these states. Illinois, meanwhile, has seen the population of Chicago shrink for the first time in decades as crime has risen and the city's black residents have sought safer communities out of state.

Much of the most intense partisan fighting will likely be in the states that are gaining seats. Legislatures in Florida, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina have all been controlled by Republicans in recent years, but will still have to reckon with the fact that much of the population growth in their states is coming from populations that tend to vote Democrat. The courts in Florida have already ruled against existing district boundaries, and pending Supreme Court suits may require redrawing the 2018 districts in North Carolina and Texas.

Still, as captivating as these partisan brawls are likely to be, they mask a broader issue with the American system of single-winner district representation. No matter who draws the lines, most districts are likely to be uncompetitive, and many demographic groups will have little to no representation. Fair Representation Voting systems, such as multi-winner ranked choice voting, offer much more proportional representation, and would make districting procedures much less partisan and hostile.

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