The political balance of the 50 states was just reweighted.
On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Census Bureau announced how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House for the next 10 years — a once-in-a-decade process called reapportionment. In total, five states will gain one House seat each starting with the 2022 elections — and Texas even added two. But for every seat these states gained, another state had to lose one — and indeed, seven states lost one congressional district each.
Overall, the gains and losses following the 2020 census largely continue a pattern in recent decades whereby states in the Midwest and Northeast have lost seats because their population growth has stagnated, while states in the South and West have mostly gained seats because their populations have boomed. (There is one exception to this overarching trend: California actually lost ground for the first time in its history.)
This southward and westward migration of congressional seats will, of course, affect the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans. With legislatures and commissions all over the country about to draw new congressional maps, states where Republicans have full control of the redistricting process added two seats on net (four seats gained, two lost). Meanwhile, the few states where Democrats wield the redistricting pen subtracted one seat on net (one gained, two lost). States with independent redistricting commissions or where the two parties share redistricting power also lost a net of one seat (two gained, three lost).
As a result, we can now say with finality that Republicans will control the redrawing of 187 congressional districts (43 percent) — or 2.5 times as many as Democrats (who will redraw 75 districts, or 17 percent). There are also 167 districts (38 percent) where neither party will enjoy exclusive control over redistricting (either because of independent commissions or split partisan control). And, of course, there are six districts (1 percent) that won’t need to be drawn at all (because they are at-large districts that cover their entire state).
But just because most of the states that are gaining seats are red and most of the states that are losing them are blue does not necessarily mean that reapportionment will help Republicans — in the House, at least. That’s because many of the fastest-growing areas of red states are increasingly Democratic, so it matters a lot how the new districts will be drawn.
To be sure, in states where one party enjoys full control of redistricting, they will probably attempt to draw the new district — or adjust for the loss of an old one — in ways that benefit themselves. But that may not always be possible, or they may actually prefer not to do so for other, more idiosyncratic reasons (such as drawing other districts to suit a particular incumbent). So based on population patterns and local political considerations, here’s our best judgment about which party will benefit from reapportionment in each state.
States that gained seats
The three most populous states to gain seats are Texas, Florida and North Carolina, and in each, Republicans will control the redistricting process. For the first time in decades, they won’t have to seek preclearance from the Justice Department either before implementing their maps thanks to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. That, in turn, could open the door for more extreme gerrymandering in these states, which historically disenfranchised voters of color.
For instance, Republicans will at least try to draw Texas’s two new districts to be as safe as possible for Republicans. But they also face the challenge that Texas’s suburbs — its fastest-growing areas — are rapidly becoming more Democratic, which threatened to blow up their 2011 gerrymander. According to Daily Kos Elections, Biden came within 3 percentage points of carrying 22 out of Texas’s current 36 districts in the 2020 election. So in an effort to shore up Republican incumbents in some areas, the Texas legislature may be forced to create safe new districts for Democrats in places like Austin, Dallas or Houston. But even if one or both of the new seats are blue, Texas’s map will still likely benefit Republicans overall (perhaps more so than their current 23-13 advantage), muddying the question of which party truly benefits from reapportionment here.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Republicans could expand the GOP’s present 16-11 seat advantage by drawing a new Republican seat, but in doing so they may also cut into Democratic-controlled seats that aren’t overwhelmingly blue, such as Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s Orlando-based seat and/or Rep. Charlie Crist’s Tampa Bay-area seat. It’s plausible that the state’s new district could be drawn in one of those regions, too, as both have grown more than most other parts of the state in the past decade. As for North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has no say in redistricting, so the GOP-led legislature could try to draw an aggressive gerrymander to improve the party’s 8-5 edge. However, the three most over-populated districts are all urban-suburban seats Biden won by at least 30 percentage points. That means Republican line-drawers will have to balance trying to add GOP-leaning seats while also not accidentally drawing too many potential Democratic voters into Republican-held districts, which could eventually cause them to flip if more densely populated areas trend further to the left. Notably, the state supreme courts in Florida and North Carolina both ordered at least partial redistricting that weakened Republican-drawn maps in the last decade; however, GOP judicial election wins and appointments since then may reduce the likelihood that those state courts will interfere with any future Republican gerrymandering attempts.
Out west, Colorado and Montana will use commissions to draw their new congressional maps, which should limit partisan gerrymandering, but also makes it harder to say which party will benefit from new lines. Colorado is using a redistricting commission for the first time, but it’s had a dramatic start with its members voting unanimously to remove the commission chair after he made comments questioning the validity of the 2020 election outcome. As for the state’s new district, it will likely be drawn somewhere in the Denver region, where much of Colorado’s growth has occurred. Meanwhile, Montana must decide how to draw its new lines, having gained a second congressional seat for the first time in 30 years. The most logical arrangement is to split the state into eastern and western halves — an outcome that has upside for both political parties. Both seats would probably still favor Republicans given the red hue of the state, meaning that in most cases, the GOP would gain a seat in Big Sky Country. But the western seat might actually be somewhat competitive thanks to liberal cities like Missoula and Bozeman — so in some scenarios, Democrats could actually add to their ranks.
Finally, unusual circumstances make it hard to predict the partisanship of Oregon’s sixth seat. Although it wouldn’t be hard to draw a 5-1 gerrymander of the state, Democrats recently agreed to give Republicans an equal say on the legislature’s redistricting committees. (However, Democrats still have control over the institutions that must approve the maps — the full state Senate, full state House and governorship — and can theoretically rescind their olive branch.) That, plus the preferences of Oregon’s congressional Democrats to hold onto their existing bases of support, may encourage a compromise 4-2 map, in which the new seat would, in effect, add a member to the Republican caucus. If a court has to get involved, a 3-3 map is even possible.
States that lost seats
California continues to be the most populous state in the country, but its pace of growth has slowed enough that it will lose a seat in the next Congress. That means the state’s independent redistricting commission will have to decide what part of the state loses representation, which could hurt one party. Based on population growth, the endangered seat could very well be a district located completely or partly in Los Angeles County. And because Democrats control almost all of those seats, that could mean they will suffer a net loss from California’s redistricting. However, the removal of a district could make Republican Rep. Mike Garcia’s seat in northern Los Angeles County even more Democratic-leaning than it already is — Biden carried it by 10 points — if the district’s new lines stretch further southward, which would give Democrats a better chance of capturing that seat.
New York and Illinois are two other blue states that lost one district each, but the Democrats who control redistricting in those states should be able to ensure that a Republican-held seat is the one that gets axed. Both states are losing residents in their redder, rural areas — upstate for New York and downstate for Illinois. So in Illinois, expect one of the state’s five Republican representatives to draw the short straw — perhaps Rep. Adam Kinzinger or Rep. Rodney Davis. In New York, meanwhile, several Republican-held districts, such as the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th, are shrinking and could be combined in such a way that not only reduces their number by one, but also makes at least one of them more Democratic. Indeed, these two states are probably Democrats’ two biggest weapons in redistricting this year, so expect their final maps to be even friendlier to Democrats than their current 13-5 (Illinois) and 19-8 (New York) splits.
Unlike in the previous two states, Republicans will control the redistricting process in Ohio, which also lost one seat. The GOP already has a sizable 12-4 edge on the current map, and they could try to make sure their loss of a seat is felt by Democrats. The leading contenders for removal are probably the districts held by Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur (9th District) and Tim Ryan (13th District), the latter of whom is running for Senate anyway. However, Republicans will be at least a little constrained by redistricting amendments voters passed in 2015 and 2018. To pass a map that will last the entire decade, the GOP-controlled state legislature will need at least a little buy-in from Democrats there; otherwise, it will only stay in effect for two terms and will need to be redrawn. Additionally, there are new limits on how cities and counties can be split. Nevertheless, Ohio is so red outside of the big cities of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati that Ohio Republicans can draw a highly favorable map without breaking the rules governing the splitting of localities.
Two other states in the Frost Belt will also lose a seat, but their new maps will be drawn by either a divided government or a commission. In Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled legislature could butt heads with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, which could bring the Democratic-controlled state supreme court into the line-drawing process. However, it’s unclear exactly which party is most likely to lose a seat, as broad swaths of the state outside of its southeast region have seen stagnant growth — or even population loss. Meanwhile, Michigan is another state utilizing a redistricting commission for the first time, which should minimize partisan gerrymandering. Still, Michigan will lose a seat, and because Wayne County has shrunk over the past decade, there’s a good chance a seat in the Detroit area will be on the chopping block. That likely means Democrats will lose a seat they currently control, but because the new map will replace the current Republican gerrymander, Democrats could end up with more favorable turf in other parts of the state.
Lastly, we know for sure that Republicans will be the ones to lose a seat in West Virginia. All three current members of Congress from the Mountain State belong to the GOP, so at least one out of Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney or Carol Miller will not be in the next Congress. Expect a lot of intrigue surrounding how, exactly, the seat is redrawn — and perhaps a rare incumbent-vs.-incumbent primary election.
Of course, we’re a long way from knowing the full political ramifications of redistricting, as the 31 other states that didn’t lose or gain a seat and will have more than one representative will also have to redraw their congressional lines. We also don’t know how the 13 states we’ve examined here will draw their maps. But today’s announcement of the reapportionment numbers marks the first step toward knowing what the lay of the land will be ahead of the 2022 election.