Congressional seats that grew most—many just outside big cities in South and West—will need to be redrawn substantially as redistricting begins
By Chad Day Aug. 12, 2021 8:07 pm ET Wall Street Journal
Twenty-three congressional districts mostly concentrated in the suburbs and exurbs of Sunbelt cities grew by more than 20% since 2010, leaving other parts of their states far behind, new census figures show.
That uneven growth across the country, laid out in the 2020 census figures released Thursday, highlights the areas where boundaries are likely to change the most in redistricting this fall. Districts in the outlying areas of Houston, Austin, Dallas, Orlando, Las Vegas and Atlanta will have to be redrawn to shed population. Other districts in the same states as those high-growth areas, however, will have to expand to rebalance the proportional representation of the U.S. House.
The new census counts also reveal how America’s slower growth led to fewer population surges in congressional districts compared with the previous decade. Between 2000 and 2010, 67 districts gained more than a fifth of their populations, and a handful saw 50% growth.
Democrats currently have a slim majority in the House and Republicans, who control the redistricting process in more states, are favored to gain at least a handful of seats by redrawing lines to their advantage. Texas will gain two House seats—and Electoral College votes in 2024—and five states will gain one each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon. Seven states will lose one apiece: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Most of the districts that gained greater than a fifth of their populations over the decade were in suburban and exurban areas, some of which started the decade reliably conservative but have tilted toward Democrats in recent years. For example, Georgia’s hotly contested Seventh district, which Democrats flipped in 2020, grew 24% over the decade, driven by an increase in Hispanic, Asian and Black populations. In contrast, the district’s white population decreased about 5% since 2010.Texas UptickFour of the top five fastest-growing U.S.congressional districts were in Texas.Change in population by congressionaldistricts, 2010 to 2020Source: WSJ Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau countsTX-22FL-9TX-26TX-10TX-310%1020304050
Between 2010 and 2020, the places that grew tend to be concentrated in suburban and urban areas where economic opportunity has drawn younger, more diverse workforces, while rural populations have slowed or even declined.
In fact, all 23 congressional districts that grew by more than 20% over the decade saw increases in diversity, the census counts show. In all 23 districts, the population growth rates for Hispanic and Asian residents also outpaced the rate for white residents, the data show.
Mark Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, said nonwhite populations drove the country’s growth overall, but he noted that there are indications that growth is slowing. He cited a drop in the fertility rate among people who identify as Hispanic or Latino.
“I think that we’re seeing the echo of the 1990s and 2000s population-growth booms for Hispanics and Asians. But we’re probably going to start to see a slowdown of those numbers at some point, and that is probably 10 years out, maybe 15, unless something big changes,” he said.
That slower growth compared with previous decades could constrain map-drawing in many states that have rules about starting with existing lines or respecting certain boundaries such as county lines, said Doug Spencer, an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado who studies redistricting.
In those states, “the lack of growth is really going to limit what they’re going to be able to do, because they’re not going to be able to move those lines very far before they start to get population inequality between the old and the new districts,” Mr. Spencer said.
Congressional district populations will return to near parity within each state during the once-a-decade reapportionment required by the Constitution that will begin this fall. While districts’ true sizes will vary by state, the Census Bureau has said each member of Congress will represent an average of 761,169 people.
How those congressional district lines are drawn, whether by state legislatures or commissions, will be the subject of debate with lawmakers in several key states already planning for court battles after the maps are completed.
Steven Romalewski, the director of mapping at the graduate center of the City University of New York who coordinates the Redistricting & You mapping project, said the population and demographic changes give some indication of where lines will have to change. But he said that many other factors would determine what district boundaries finally look like.
“The moment you change any district, it changes everything around it,” he said. He said Texas could see districts with more substantial changes, both because of population growth and because the state will gain two House seats.
Nowhere is more emblematic of the population and demographic changes over the decade than Texas. The state overall grew by about 16%, from roughly 25 million residents to more than 29 million in 2020.
Nine of Texas’ current 36 districts grew by more than 20% since 2010—the most of any state. Florida had four districts among that group, and North Carolina had two. Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia each saw one district grow by more than 20%.
On the other end of the spectrum, 61 districts saw population declines. The biggest rate of decline was in Mississippi’s Second district, which lost about 9% of its population over the decade.
—Anthony DeBarros contributed to this article.