The Census Bureau released the preliminary findings of its 2020 U.S. population count Monday, setting the stage for a once-in-a-decade congressional redistricting process that could in itself be enough to give the Republican Party the five additional House seats needed to recapture the majority following the 2022 national elections.
Under the new count, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all will lose a congressional seat. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Florida will gain one seat, while Texas will add two.
“New census data and reapportionment add challenges for the Democrats in the midterm elections,” wrote Sarah Bianchi, political analyst at Evercore ISI, in a Tuesday note to clients, pointing out that states that Democratic President Joe Biden won in the 2020 election lost a net three congressional seats.
“The outcome was not as bad for Democrats as some thought it would be and there is a long way to go in terms of mapping Congressional districts for 2022. However there is no question that on balance it favors Republicans,” she added. “Based on historical odds, Democrats already face challenges to keep the House in 2022 as the party that holds the White House on average loses 27 seats, far greater than the slim majority Democrats hold today.”
Dave Wasserman, U.S. House editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political report, wrote in a Monday blog post that despite the boost Republicans got from Census reapportionment, the real gains will come from the fact that the GOP wields greater control over the redistricting process due to the party’s grip on power at the state level.
He noted that Republicans have full authority to redraw 187 congressional districts in the next year, while Democrats have control of just 75. Democrats have also been more likely to cede control over redistricting to nonpartisan commissions, as is the case in the Democratic strongholds of Virginia, New York and Colorado. In Oregon, meanwhile, Democrats have struck a deal with Republicans to relinquish exclusive authority to redistrict there which could cost the party a seat in next year’s election, Wasserman added.
“Republicans’ biggest redistricting weapons are Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina — and they could conceivably pick up all five seats they need for the majority from those four alone,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, Democrats’ most prized states are Illinois and Maryland. The biggest wild cards? New York and Ohio, where lopsided state legislatures could conceivably ignore new reforms and impose deeply partisan gerrymanders.”
New York could be where Democrats decide to abandon a principled stand against gerrymandering and use their supermajorities to overrule the independent redistricting commission to create a map that nets Democrats four more seats.
Another wildcard is whether Congress passes legislation that would curb partisan gerrymandering, like House Resolution 1, also known as the For the People Act. That bill passed the lower chamber last month, but has yet to be taken up by the Senate, where Democrats are ten votes short of the 60-vote threshold needed to pass such legislation under current filibuster rules.
“If Democrats were to move to reform the filibuster, it would be to address voting rights issues in response to limitations on voting in states like Georgia and gerrymandering,” Bianchi wrote. “However, Senators Manchin and Sinema have more recently spoken against changing the filibuster, making such changes less likely.”