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State Redistricting Profile: Georgia

Here’s how Georgia’s demographics have changed since the last time maps were drawn — and what those changes mean for this decade’s redistricting cycle.

Published: October 8, 2021
View the entire Redistricting and Changing Demographics in Key States series

The Geor­gia legis­lature is expec­ted to pass new state legis­lat­ive and congres­sional district maps in a special session start­ing Novem­ber 3. The purpose of this process is to account for popu­la­tion changes that have occurred over the past decade as meas­ured by recently released 2020 Census data. In Geor­gia, these changes have been signi­fic­ant, with the state’s popu­la­tion grow­ing by 10.5 percent, from 9,687,653 to 10,711,908 people, between 2010 and 2020.

As in 2011, when districts were last drawn, Repub­lican lawmakers in Geor­gia have complete control over the process. But the legal land­scape has shif­ted for the worse since then. Because of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling strik­ing down a key provi­sion of the Voting Rights Act, Geor­gia will no longer have to submit its maps to the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice or a federal court in Wash­ing­ton, DC, to ensure they do not discrim­in­ate by race. It will be the first time in six decades that the state did not need preapproval before imple­ment­ing its maps. And in a 2019 ruling, the Supreme Court also fore­closed the possib­il­ity that federal courts could serve as a back­stop to partisan gerry­man­der­ing, no matter how brazen or extreme.

Thus, Geor­gi­a’s 180 state house, 56 state senate, and 14 congres­sional districts are being drawn under single-party control without crit­ical safe­guards against racial discrim­in­a­tion or partisan abuses. This analysis summar­izes Geor­gi­a’s major popu­la­tion trends of the last decade, both statewide and in metro Atlanta, and exam­ines their redis­trict­ing implic­a­tions.

High­lights:

  • Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial Geor­gi­ans collect­ively account for all of Geor­gi­a’s popu­la­tion growth between 2010 and 2020. The white popu­la­tion shrank both propor­tion­ally and in abso­lute terms over the course of the decade.
  • Fifty-one percent of Geor­gi­a’s popu­la­tion gains are concen­trated in five metro Atlanta counties — Gwin­nett, Fulton, Cobb, Forsyth, and DeKalb. These counties outpaced all others in terms of growth, and they now have numbers to support increased repres­ent­a­tion, includ­ing three addi­tional state house districts.
  • In recent years, the rapid growth of communit­ies of color has reshaped the polit­ics of the Atlanta suburbs as multiracial coali­tions press for and have been increas­ingly success­ful in winning polit­ical power. With the Atlanta suburbs likely to be one of Geor­gi­a’s key redis­trict­ing battle­grounds this decade, a cent­ral issue to watch will be whether lawmakers attempt to under­mine these gains — and whether they refuse to create new elect­oral oppor­tun­it­ies.

Statewide Analysis

Geor­gia gained over 1 million new resid­ents from 2010 to 2020. Though a number of counties across Geor­gi­a’s Black Belt and in other rural communit­ies saw their total numbers decrease slightly over the last decade, the rest of the state’s popu­la­tion grew rapidly, rank­ing fourth among all states in total popu­la­tion growth. foot­note1_ng0y­orr 1 2020 U.S. Census PL 94–171 redis­trict­ing data summary files and 2010 U.S. Census data show that Geor­gia added the fourth most people of all states between 2010 and 2020, trail­ing only Texas, Flor­ida, and Cali­for­nia. Geor­gia ranks 13th in relat­ive popu­la­tion growth. U.S. Census Bureau 2020 Census PL 94–171 Redis­trict­ing Summary File, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decen­nial-census/about/rdo/summary-files/2020.html, and 2010 Census Summary File 1 Data, https://www.census.gov/data/data­sets/2010/dec/summary-file-1.html. Accord­ing to estim­ates from 2019, about half of this change is attrib­ut­able to natural increase foot­note2_mbpe8i5 2 Natural increase is estim­ated to be respons­ible for 483,669 of the 928,964 people added to Geor­gi­a’s popu­la­tion between 2010 and 2019 — 52 percent of the state’s growth. U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 4. Cumu­lat­ive Estim­ates of Resid­ent Popu­la­tion Change of the United States, Regions, State, and Puerto Rico” and “Region and State Rank­ings: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019,” Decem­ber 2019, avail­able at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-state-total.html.  and half due to inter­na­tional immig­ra­tion and domestic in-migra­tion. foot­note3_lt51ms5 3 The net migra­tion of an estim­ated 441,756 people to Geor­gia from 2010 to 2019 is respons­ible for 48 percent of its growth during that time period. Of those in-migrants, 188,808 (43 percent) came from outside the United States and 252,948 (57 percent) from other parts of the coun­try. U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 4. Cumu­lat­ive Estim­ates of Resid­ent Popu­la­tion Change of the United States, Regions, State, and Puerto Rico” and “Region and State Rank­ings: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019,” Decem­ber 2019, avail­able at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-state-total.html. In 2019, Cali­for­nia, Flor­ida, Texas, South Caro­lina, North Caro­lina, and Tennessee were the top senders of popu­la­tion to Geor­gia. U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 1. State-to-State Migra­tion Flows: 2019,” from the 2019 Amer­ican Community Survey 1-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/geographic-mobil­ity/state-to-state-migra­tion.html.

This substan­tial popu­la­tion growth was not distrib­uted equally across the state or across racial groups. In fact, Geor­gi­a’s white popu­la­tion shrank over the last decade, both in abso­lute and relat­ive terms. As of 2020, there are 51,764 fewer white Geor­gi­ans than there were in 2010. This decrease in white popu­la­tion makes the growth in Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial popu­la­tions even more notable — they account for 100 percent of the popu­la­tion growth. In abso­lute terms, Geor­gi­a’s Black and Latino popu­la­tions grew the most, adding 367,319 and 269,768 addi­tional people respect­ively. The Asian popu­la­tion added 163,988 people, grow­ing by 53 percent since 2010, which is the highest for a single racial group. foot­note4_h8f3t6i 4 Because the Census Bureau categor­ized write-in responses to the race and ethni­city ques­tions differ­ently in 2020 than in 2010, the number of people repor­ted in the 2020 data as identi­fy­ing with multiple racial groups is expec­ted to be higher. In other words, part of this increase likely reflects actual growth, but part of it can be attrib­uted to meth­od­o­lo­gical changes. Hansi Lo Wang, “What the New Census Data Can — and Can’t — Tell Us About People Living in the U.S.,” NPR, August 12, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/08/12/1010222899/2020-census-race-ethni­city-data-categor­ies-hispanic; and Rachel Marks and Merarys Rios-Vargas, “Improve­ments to the 2020 Census Race and Hispanic Origin Ques­tion Designs, Data Processing, and Coding Proced­ures,” U.S. Census Bureau, August 3, 2021, https://www.census.gov/news­room/blogs/random-samplings/2021/08/improve­ments-to-2020-census-race-hispanic-origin-ques­tion-designs.html.  These demo­graphic trends hold when Geor­gi­a’s citizen voting age popu­la­tion, which is often used in redis­trict­ing as a stand-in for those eligible to vote, is considered. foot­note5_fmet1hq 5 Detailed compar­is­ons of citizen voting age popu­la­tion changes over the past decade are omit­ted here due to a lack of equi­val­ent data sources, as work on the special tabu­la­tions of the voting-eligible popu­la­tion for 2020 has been suspen­ded indef­in­itely. U.S. Census Bureau, “Post-2020 Census CVAP Special Tabu­la­tion,” Octo­ber 30, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decen­nial-census/about/voting-rights/cvap/Post-2020-CVAP.html. However, compar­is­ons of the Amer­ican Community Survey 5-Year Estim­ates for 2010 and 2019 demon­strate that the total popu­la­tion trends detailed in this piece have been stead­ily emer­ging among the citizen voting age popu­la­tion over the past decade.

Because Geor­gi­a’s popu­la­tion growth is concen­trated in geographic pock­ets, largely in urban and suburban areas, the number of districts in these areas should increase. Indeed, over the course of the last decade, many rural counties saw their popu­la­tion numbers decrease or hold steady. Mean­while, areas around greater Augusta and Savan­nah saw healthy increases, and the popu­la­tion of metro Atlanta boomed.

Collect­ively, Fulton, Gwin­nett, Cobb, Forsyth, and Dekalb Counties — all rapidly diver­si­fy­ing communit­ies cover­ing Atlanta and some of its suburbs — added 524,202 people, or just over half of Geor­gi­a’s total popu­la­tion growth from 2010 to 2020. By the numbers, these fast-grow­ing metro Atlanta counties should pull three state house districts and about two-thirds of a congres­sional district from regions of the state that have shrunk or stag­nated. foot­note6_7nfdacs 6 Ideal district popu­la­tion sizes are calcu­lated by divid­ing the total popu­la­tion of Geor­gia (9,687,658 in 2010 and 10,711,908 in 2020) by the number of Geor­gia districts in the relev­ant category (56 for state senate, 180 for state house, and 14 for Congress). The ideal size for a state house district was 53,820 in 2010 and 59,511 in 2020; for a state senate district,172,994 in 2010 and 191,284 in 2020; and for a congres­sional district, 691,975 in 2010 and 765,136 in 2020. Fulton County, for example, would have been entitled to 17.1 state house districts in 2010 and has enough people for 17.9 state house districts in 2020, mean­ing the number of districts it could support increased by 0.8 over the past decade due to popu­la­tion growth. Combined figures for the top five growth counties in the metro Atlanta region were calcu­lated by adding these county repres­ent­a­tional differ­ences together.  The ques­tion will be whether the legis­lature actu­ally increases the repres­ent­a­tion of Atlanta and its suburbs or uses popu­la­tions in other parts of the state to minim­ize their polit­ical influ­ence.

Regional Analysis

Homing in on the metro Atlanta counties puts a finer point on the statewide trends. Unsur­pris­ingly, Black, Latino, and Asian communit­ies repres­ent the lion’s share of popu­la­tion growth in the burgeon­ing region, home to nearly 4 in 10 Geor­gi­ans. The follow­ing map, which shows change in the nonwhite share of the popu­la­tion by census tract from 2010 to 2020, reveals how this growth has trans­formed some of Atlanta’s suburbs from predom­in­antly white into multiracial communit­ies.

Nonwhite Share of Population in Atlanta Metro Area, 2010–⁠20

Many of these areas were once known for their status as “white flight” destin­a­tions in the latter part of the 20th century. Now, many have racial and ethnic plur­al­it­ies. foot­note7_en0c3rq 7 In 2010, 51 percent of Atlanta metro area resid­ents lived in a census tract where white people made up less than half of the popu­la­tion. By 2020, 64 percent of Atlanta resid­ents — over 3 million people — lived in a census tract where nonwhite people made up the major­ity. U.S. Census Bureau 2020 PL 94–171 Redis­trict­ing Data Summary File, accessed via Social Explorer.  In large part, this is thanks to signi­fic­ant in-migra­tion from other U.S. cities, such as New York, Miami, and Chicago. foot­note8_o52q4ik 8 U.S. Census Bureau, “Metro Area-to-Metro Area Migra­tion Flows,” from the 2018 Amer­ican Community Survey 5-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/demo/geographic-mobil­ity/metro-to-metro-migra­tion.html.  Many of those coming to metro Atlanta are younger Black profes­sion­als, part of the reverse Great Migra­tion as Black Amer­ic­ans move back to the South a century after millions of their ancest­ors began flee­ing Jim Crow segreg­a­tion in pursuit of oppor­tun­it­ies in other parts of the coun­try. foot­note9_pac8rhb 9 Khushbu Shah, “Black ‘Reverse Migra­tion’ Driv­ing Atlanta and Geor­gia Towards Demo­crats,” Guard­ian, Octo­ber 22, 2018, https://www.theguard­ian.com/cities/2018/oct/22/black-reverse-migra­tion-atlanta-brian-kemp-stacey-abrams-governor-midterms-voter-suppres­sion; “Why Some Black Millen­ni­als Are Moving South,” WBUR, August 8, 2017, https://www.wbur.org/here­and­now/2017/08/08/black-millen­ni­als-moving-south; and Meg Cunning­ham, “In Atlanta, Reverse Migra­tion Is Begin­ning to Skew Suburbs Blue,” ABC News, Novem­ber 20, 2019, https://abcnews.go.com/Polit­ics/atlanta-reverse-migra­tion-begin­ning-skew-suburbs-blue/story?id=67106895.

Immig­ra­tion has also been a signi­fic­ant driver of the Atlanta region’s growth since 2010. Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, and Gwin­nett Counties are home to flour­ish­ing immig­rant communit­ies. In Gwin­nett County, for example, a quarter of resid­ents were born in another coun­try — nearly 20 percent of whom immig­rated to the U.S. in the last decade. foot­note10_atrpjsw 10 U.S. Census Bureau, 2015–2019 Amer­ican Community Survey 5-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/data/developers/data-sets/acs-5year.html.  Clark­ston, a town in DeKalb County, has even been called the Ellis Island of the South and “one of the most success­ful reset­tle­ment communit­ies in the world.” foot­note11_z3gc9j0 11 Patrik Jonsson, “Ellis Island of the South,” Chris­tian Science Monitor, Janu­ary 17, 2016, https://www.csmon­itor.com/USA/Soci­ety/2016/0117/Ellis-Island-of-the-South.  These migra­tion patterns have contrib­uted to the growth of Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial popu­la­tions in metro Atlanta.

These demo­graphic shifts have had real polit­ical consequences. Demo­crats Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff won close statewide races in the 2020 elec­tion cycle, largely because of their strong perform­ances among increas­ingly diverse suburban Atlanta voters. foot­note12_kzw044c 12 Mireya Villar­real, “Biden Becomes the First Demo­crat to Win Geor­gia Since 1992, CBS News Projects,” CBS News, Novem­ber 13, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/joe-biden-geor­gia-first-demo­crat-win-since-1992-cbs-news-projects/; and Nate Cohn, Matthew Conlen, and Charlie Smart, “Detailed Turnout Data Shows How Geor­gia Turned Blue,” New York Times, Novem­ber 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/inter­act­ive/2020/11/17/upshot/geor­gia-precinct-shift-suburbs.html  Some­times over­looked, however, are the changes that have occurred at the state and local levels. Since 2018, three suburban counties elec­ted their first Black sher­iffs, and Gwin­nett County voters elec­ted Geor­gi­a’s first female Asian state senator as well as 20 Black women to state, county, and muni­cipal offices. foot­note13_3s6joud 13 “Gwin­nett, Cobb, Henry Counties Elect First Black Sher­iffs in History,” WSB-TV Atlanta, Novem­ber 5, 2020, https://www.wsbtv.com/news/polit­ics/gwin­nett-cobb-henry-counties-elect-first-black-sher­iffs-history/VOQCE7GQPF­FU3­FONDQEP6H46OA/; Curt Yeomans, “As Back-to-Back Blue Waves Hit Gwin­nett County, It Has Been Black Women Lead­ing the Shift,” Gwin­nett Daily Post, Febru­ary 28, 2021, https://www.gwin­nettdaily­post.com/local/as-back-to-back-blue-waves-hit-gwin­nett-county-it-has-been-black-women-lead­ing/article_bed4a416–6343–11eb-90ee-bfaf4e145ace.html; and Maya T. Prabhu, “Two Geor­gia Senat­ors Tell Story of Chan­ging Gwin­nett County,” Atlanta Journal-Consti­tu­tion, March 24, 2021, https://www.ajc.com/polit­ics/two-geor­gia-senat­ors-tell-story-of-chan­ging-gwin­nett-county/3MNI­SECPS5FCNHE76UZ5HL73AA/.  Put simply, voters of color and emer­ging multiracial coali­tions are becom­ing an increas­ingly effect­ive polit­ical force.

At the same time, this grow­ing polit­ical power could meet with back­lash. Redis­trict­ing plans that fail to create addi­tional elect­oral oppor­tun­it­ies for voters of color, or even dismantle districts where voters of color have enjoyed success, would almost certainly be chal­lenged under the Voting Rights Act. But it is uncer­tain whether such chal­lenges would succeed, given the Supreme Court’s increas­ingly restrict­ive inter­pret­a­tions of voting rights laws and its green­light­ing of partisan gerry­man­der­ing.

Conclu­sion

Geor­gi­a’s popu­la­tion has under­gone a profound evol­u­tion over the course of the last decade. Whether redis­trict­ing will account for the rapid popu­la­tion growth and diver­si­fic­a­tion, partic­u­larly in the metro Atlanta suburbs, will be key to under­stand­ing the elect­oral land­scape in Geor­gia.

End Notes