Nancy Solomon: I'm Nancy Solomon from WNYC's newsroom, and this is The Takeaway. This week, after months of delay, the Census Bureau released its state population totals, which are used to determine the number of seats each state will have in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years, and by extension how many electoral college votes each state receives.
The winners, Texas will gain two seats, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon gain one seat each. The states that lose a seat, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and California, which lost the seat for the first time in its history.
With me now to break down what we know so far from the 2020 census, and what it means is Dave Wasserman, House Editor of the Cook Political Report. Dave, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Dave Wasserman: Thanks for having me.
Nancy Solomon: Let's start with an overview of what these latest results and census data mean for the 2020 census and what kind of political ramifications that will have.
Dave Wasserman: Demographic terms is that it's a continuation of a long-term trend of power shifting from the frost belt in the north to the west in the Sun Belt. It was just a baller shift than what we've typically seen in past decades. Politically speaking, if you had applied these Electoral College totals to the 2020 election, Joe Biden would have won the race with three fewer electoral votes than he did, 303 verse 306. This is a very slight boost for Republicans, but keep in mind that the bigger deal for control of the House in 2022 is going to be how the lines are drawn within these states, not just how many seats each state gets.
Nancy Solomon: That's something that we won't know until over the summer, that data won't come out to form those maps. Is that correct?
Dave Wasserman: That's correct. We're expecting the detailed block-level data needed to draw district lines in the fall. Of course, all of this data has been delayed, which puts states in a time crunch to get redistricting done, districts redrawn in time for the 2022 midterms.
Keep in mind that Republicans have final authority over redistricting in states totaling 187 districts, that's down from 219 in 2011. Democrats only have final authority in states totaling 75 districts, that's up from 44 last time. On balance, Republicans do have an advantage in this process, they only need five seats to reclaim control of the House, and they control some pretty big state.
Nancy Solomon: We're talking about the winners and losers. California is an interesting one, given that it's losing a seat for the first time in its history. What's going on there?
Dave Wasserman: Los Angeles County accounts for California's decline in the House seat, most likely. We've seen, of course, a lot of Californians express concern about the cost of living in the past decade, but when you consider that California lost a seat and that Texas and Florida gained fewer seats than we expected and Arizona didn't gain a seat at all, it also raises concerns as to whether Hispanics might have a lower count, once we get the detailed data, than the census estimates suggested in the past year. That is a concern for advocacy groups, and it could be a detriment to areas with high non-citizen populations and to Democrat's prospects of maintaining their districts.
Nancy Solomon: What other states did you find the data to be surprising, either for gaining or losing a seat?
Dave Wasserman: The biggest surprise to me was that Arizona, which has been growing pretty rapidly did not gain a seat, but there were a number of states that breathed a sigh of relief. Rhode Island, Alabama, and Minnesota, were all on the cusp of losing districts and they averted that. One of the shocking statistics was just how close the race was for the final seat in the US House.
Minnesota beat out New York state for the 435th seat in the House by just 26 people. In fact, if New York had had 89 more residents in this count, then they would have kept their current number of House seats. Keep in mind that by April 1, 2020, the census day, a lot of estimates or official totals suggested that there had been close to 2,000 COVID deaths in New York State, so it's possible that played a role.
Nancy Solomon: Wow, that's amazing. 89 votes is shocking and amazing, but the fact that this could actually be related to COVID is also stunning to me. Does reapportionment favor one party over another, or do we have to wait until redistricting is completed to know that?
Dave Wasserman: Reapportionment itself is a small boost for Republicans because Texas and Florida are gaining seats, of course, but redistricting is really the bigger deal. The big question is what a lot of these states with new bipartisan or independent commissions will do. For example, in Ohio, there's a new reform that requires some level of bipartisan consensus to pass maps. It's also under the rules possible for Republicans in the legislature to overrule that commission and pass a four-year map if there's a failure to achieve bipartisan compromise. Same thing is true on the opposite side in New York.
We're really waiting to see how some of these untested regimes and reforms play out before we know what the landscape will look like for 2022.
Nancy Solomon: Of course, everything was delayed by the pandemic, but were there other factors that played a role in the delays?
Dave Wasserman: The census implemented a new data privacy measure called differential privacy, which was designed to prevent illicit actors from hacking or trying to assume the individual demographic characteristics of census respondents, and that is proving controversial. There are some Republicans who alleged that that leads to a less than exact count of the population. These court battles may take some time to play out, but the main cause of this delay was the pandemic and the difficulty of getting a total count of the population.
Nancy Solomon: Dave Wasserman is the House Editor of the Cook Political Report. Thanks for breaking this all down for us, Dave.
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