Redistricting: Things to Watch Nationally

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So dealing with redistricting across the country, there are three broad things to watch —

  • The shifts in relative population among the states that result in changes in apportionment,
  • The shifts of population and demographic changes within the states that can result in changes in balances of power, and
  • New reforms in some states that will change the nature of the line-drawing process.

Let’s take a look at the first two.

I. Apportionment

Here’s the map, courtesy of the Census. As you can see, us New Yorkers are the big losers, along with Ohio, losing two seats in Congress. Texas is the biggest winner, gaining four. Take a look at the map — the winners are in shades of blue, the losers in green:

So at first glance, the big gainers are in the south and west and the losers are mostly in the northeast and midwest (exception: Louisiana). It would seem, especially from the example of Texas, that Republicans would gain out of this. But it’s really important to remember that there are population shifts going on within these states, and the regions gaining population may not be in the most traditionally Republican areas or among traditionally Republican demographics…

II. Changes Within The States

This brings us to the second and probably most important point. This interactive map widget (screenshot below) from the Census will help explain:

Where’s all the population growth in this map of Virginia? Dark blue = more growth. That cluster of deep blue counties in northern Virginia? Yeah, that’s where the most growth is. In fact it’s gotten so unequal since the last redistricting that one state senator has one and a half times as many constituents as the average district size!

A decade of rocket-fast growth seeping outward from Washington has meant more than just new people in Northern Virginia. It’s meant that more of the state now considers itself part of Northern Virginia.

And yes, Northern Virginia is known as more Democratic, although the outlying suburbs that have experienced the rampant growth have been known as swing areas recently.

Read on for a little more on this subject…

Now let’s have a look at Texas, which has a solidly majority Republican congressional delegation at the moment (thanks in large part to disgraced former Rep. Tom DeLay’s mid-decade gerrymandering scheme during the worst of the Bush years).

Notice anything about those dark blue areas? Yep, most of them are clustered around major cities. The northern dark blue cluster is a set of counties surrounding Dallas. The central dark blue cluster is the region around the cities of Austin and San Antonio. The one in the east along the gulf of Mexico is around Houston and Galveston.

And here’s a big fact — see that table off on the right? It says that Latinos are now 37.6% of Texas’ population — that’s an increase of over 40% from ten years ago!

Even in a red state gaining four new congressional seats, one-sided Republican gains are hardly the standard, assured outcome. Demographics matter, and so does the geography of population change within the state.

Take a look at all the state maps available in the Census map widget, showing county-by-county growth levels and state-level demographic tables. Sadly the New York version isn’t available yet (first the Census needs to finalize and release the New York neighborhood-level data).