The first release of nationwide population numbers from the 2020 US Census gives some important clues as to how American politics will be shaped in the next decade and beyond.
To be sure, the hard count of how many people live in which states can only determine so much with respect to the power of individual states in, say, the presidential election or in deciding the balance of power in the US House. It cannot say much about how popular President Biden will be during his reelection campaign (should he seek one) much less about what kinds of political debates the nation will be having in elections going forward.
Still, there are some important things to gather from the release of these numbers, which are essentially breakdowns of just how many people live in the nation and in each individual state. From there Congress can approve the Census recommendation of how many US House seats each state should be apportioned.
Here are three takeaways from the Census announcement.
1. Republicans gain over Democrats in small, but important ways
The big news for election nerds is which states gained US House seats and which ones lost them, following population shifts from the past decade.
The bottom line is this: Republican-voting states gained six US House seats, and therefore, six electoral votes in the next presidential election.
On the one hand, if the 2020 presidential election were held in this new reality, Biden would have won anyway and, logistically, it would have still come down to battleground states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. (Biden’s tight wins in Georgia and Arizona were just gravy, and not necessary to win.)
On the other hand, it is likely that Republicans can flip the US House to their control in 2022 if they did nothing else than win these six seats, as expected, in the next year’s midterm elections. Currently, Democrats have just a 218 to 212 majority, with five House vacancies.
Again, it is a lot more complicated than that. After all, we don’t even know where the district lines will be drawn, much less who the candidates will be.
2. There will suddenly be more pressure from the left to have Democrats make Puerto Rico and D.C. states
Democrats, seeing that they just lost six Electoral College votes, might suddenly feel a greater sense of urgency to make new states in places that will likely vote Democratic. At the very least, adding the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states would give them four new electoral votes from US Senators, but what is less clear is how it would shake out for the House.
The House has been capped at 435 seats for nearly a century. If those states were added and the number of representatives remained the same, then DC would qualify for one US Representative and Puerto Rico would get five. And while Republican Alabama nearly lost a seat in this Census, the same could be said for Democratic Rhode Island. So it’s unclear how the partisan advantage would shake out.
3. Back in New England, all the changes are more subtle
While the six New England states didn’t gain or lose a seat in Congress for the next decade, there could be some interesting moves by at least two states in the region that could have political implications.
First, in Maine, the state’s two Congressional districts — while currently held by Democrats — are very different. Biden won the state’s First Congressional District in the southern part of the state by 23 percentage points. However, Donald Trump won the other Congressional District by over 7 percentage points. The entirely Democratic legislature in Augusta may decide to shift these lines a bit to add more Democratic voters to the Second Congressional District.
Meanwhile in New Hampshire, where Democrats also hold both of the state’s seats, the Republican-led legislature may decide to carve out a Republican advantage in the First Congressional District, in the eastern part of the state.
In the end, such a move could result in the only Republican US House member in all of New England, should Democrat Chris Pappas either lose that seat or be put in the other district.