8 takeaways from the 2020 census reapportionment of the House

Some surprises, but some things remain the same

One of the three Republicans in West Virginia’s House delegation, which includes Republicans Carol Miller and David B. McKinley, right, will not return to the chamber in 2023 after the state lost a seat in reapportionment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
One of the three Republicans in West Virginia’s House delegation, which includes Republicans Carol Miller and David B. McKinley, right, will not return to the chamber in 2023 after the state lost a seat in reapportionment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 26, 2021 at 6:01pm

Nearly four full months late, the U.S. Census Bureau announced apportionment totals Monday that will drive the next round of redistricting.

Here are some initial thoughts on the process and the fight for the House:

House majority still in play

The House majority was in play before the reapportionment announcement and it’s in play after the reapportionment announcement. House Republicans need a net gain of just 5 seats in 2022 to retake the chamber.

Surprise! Less movement in fewer states

One of the big surprises was that fewer seats shifted in fewer states compared with earlier estimates. Texas was projected to gain three seats, while it only gained two. Florida was estimated to gain two seats and it gained one. Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will gain a single seat each. Arizona was estimated to gain a seat but did not. An undercount of Hispanic voters is a logical explanation for this miss, but Census Bureau officials on Monday’s announcement call were not explicit and said it was within 1 percent of pre-census estimates. Seven states will lose a seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Maintaining their current seat counts are Minnesota, Rhode Island and Alabama, which were all at risk of losing a district each.

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Big states to watch remain the same

Even though they didn’t gain as many seats as expected, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia are the big states to watch in the redistricting battle. Republicans control the process in all four states, and we’ll see how aggressive they get to maximize gains.

Maps matter

While we now know which states will gain or lose seats, arguably the most important part of the process — the maps themselves — is still yet to come. Just because New York lost a seat and New York is a Democratic state doesn’t mean Democrats will lose a seat there. Democrats are functionally in control of the redistricting process in the Empire State, and it’s most likely the GOP that loses a seat.

Candidates matter

Just because maps are drawn to dramatically favor one party or one candidate, it doesn’t guarantee that outcome. A perfect example is Georgia Republican Max Burns’ election in 2002 over Democrat Charles “Champ” Walker Jr. in a Democratic district drawn by Democrats.

Environment matters

It’s hard to land on a set number for a gain or loss of seats due to redistricting because new lines are only one part of the process. The actual maps, the strength of individual candidates and the overall political environment will help determine how many seats Republicans and Democrats gain or lose. We’re months away from knowing where the precise districts will be and the voters’ mood.

Census matters

According to Census Bureau officials on Monday’s conference call, New York fell 89 people short of not losing any seats at all. That’s quite a different result from some pre-announcement projections that showed the Empire State possibly losing two seats. The moral of the story is that it’s important to be counted because every person matters.

Guaranteed loss

Even before the maps are drawn and finalized, there is one thing we know for sure. Republicans will lose one seat in West Virginia. That means Republicans need to gain a seat elsewhere to compensate for the loss and get back to the five-seat gain they need for a majority.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.