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How the Census Numbers Will Reshape the House

A look at which states gained and lost seats, and who will draw new maps.

Last Updated: July 8, 2021
Published: May 4, 2021

The Census Bureau’s release of appor­tion­ment numbers last week kicked off what will likely be the most chal­len­ging redis­trict­ing cycle in recent decades. Here are some takeaways from the numbers released last week.

The appor­tion­ment was mostly in line with expect­a­tions, but there were some surprises.

While the appor­tion­ment counts announced by the Census Bureau were broadly in line with expect­a­tions, there were surprises. In partic­u­lar, ArizonaFlor­ida, and Texas, three fast-grow­ing and demo­graph­ic­ally diverse states that had been expec­ted to gain seats, either failed to do so or gained fewer seats than expec­ted. Mean­while, New York, which had been considered at seri­ous risk of losing two seats, ended up only losing one seat, and came within 89 people of not losing any seats. Minnesota and Rhode Island also unex­pec­tedly retained seats they had been widely projec­ted to lose, although Minnesota exceeded the threshold by only 26 people.

Despite the unex­pec­ted results, it’s still too early to say what accounts for the vari­ations from projec­tions and, crit­ic­ally, whether under­counts in communit­ies of color contrib­uted to the results. That’s because while appor­tion­ment numbers reveal how many people live in a state, they don’t tell where people live within a state or about their age, race, or ethni­city. That inform­a­tion will have to wait until mid-August, when the Census Bureau will release the more gran­u­lar block-level data­sets used to draw maps, after which a fuller picture of poten­tial under­counts will begin to emerge. Even then, a complete picture likely won’t be avail­able until 2022 or later when the Census Bureau publishes under­count estim­ates.

Repub­lic­ans will once again have an upper hand in redis­trict­ing, but not as much as during the last cycle.

After reap­por­tion­ment, Repub­lic­ans will have sole control of the draw­ing of 179 congres­sional districts in the upcom­ing round of redis­trict­ing, compared with 49 districts for Demo­crats.

Notably, the Repub­lic­ans’ signi­fic­ant advant­age would persist even if Demo­crats in New York were to reject maps drawn by the state’s new advis­ory commis­sion and draw their own map. (Repub­lican-controlled Iowa and Utah also have advis­ory commis­sions whose maps could be over­rid­den by those states’ legis­latures if they want.)

But the GOP’s map draw­ing advant­age is not as great as it was during the previ­ous redis­trict­ing cycle after the Tea Party midterms of 2010, which gave Repub­lic­ans sole control over the draw­ing of 213 congres­sional districts — 34 more than today. Because of reforms in states like Michigan and Color­ado, a record 127 seats this decade will be drawn by inde­pend­ent or bipar­tisan commis­sions (compared to 88 last decade), while the Demo­crats’ abil­ity to win governor­ships in key states like Pennsylvania and Wiscon­sin means that there is divided govern­ment in several large states that saw aggress­ive gerry­man­der­ing last decade. Still, single-party control of the redis­trict­ing process, espe­cially in the South, is likely to portend another discrim­in­at­ory cycle of linedraw­ing.

Congres­sional districts will be the largest ever.

The aver­age size of U.S. congres­sional districts increased from 710,767 in 2010 to 760,367 after this year’s reap­por­tion­ment, making districts nearly three times larger than they were in 1929 when the current size of the U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives was set.

But there is consid­er­able vari­ation among states. Montana, which gained a second district in this year’s reap­por­tion­ment, will have the coun­try’s smal­lest districts, with just 542,113 people per district. By contrast, neigh­bor­ing Idaho’s two districts will have 919,553 people each, making them the largest districts in states with two or more districts.