Early population data show blue states at risk of losing electoral clout

Arizona, Florida and Texas would add seats, while California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York would lose one.
With the Capitol Dome in the background, the Capitol Hill Christmas Tree is lifted from a flatbed truck as it arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Americans flocking in droves to the fastest-growing states in the nation could give Sun Belt states added power in Congress following the next U.S. Census, if demographic trends hold or accelerate over the next decade.

A new analysis of yearly data released last week by the Census Bureau shows three Sun Belt states — Arizona, Florida and Texas — would gain new seats in Congress after the decennial reapportionment process.

The analysis, conducted by the nonpartisan firm Election Data Services, found fast-growing Idaho would add a third member to its congressional delegation as well.

Four states that lost population over the last year would stand to lose seats. If current trends hold, California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York would all see their congressional delegations shrink by one seat.

Those early results hint at a marginal gain for a future Republican presidential contender. Three of the four states set to add a seat have voted Republican in the last two presidential contests, while President Biden carried Arizona by a slim margin in 2020. All four states set to lose seats — and thus votes in the electoral college — have voted Democratic in every presidential contest since 1992.

Declining or stagnant populations have cost Rust Belt states seats in Congress for decades. New York has lost at least one seat in the House in every decade since peaking at 45 seats following the 1930 and 1940 reapportionment processes. Illinois has lost a seat every decade since 1970.

California has moved in the other direction ever since statehood. The nation’s largest state gained at least one seat almost every decade since it joined the Union in 1850; between 1940 and 1990, California’s congressional delegation more than doubled, from 23 seats to 52.

The state’s winning streak came to a halt in 2010, when it peaked at 53 seats in Congress. After the 2020 Census, California lost a seat because its population did not grow as rapidly as it had in prior years.

Today, California’s population is shrinking. The annual American Community Survey published by the Census Bureau showed California lost a net of 113,000 residents between July 2021 and July 2022.

If that population loss accelerates, or if other states begin to grow more rapidly, California risks losing a second seat in Congress. Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, found that present trends would mean California scores the 435th and final seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, limiting their losses by a relatively thin margin of just 55,284 people.

Texas, which added more than 470,000 new residents over the last year, would need to add another half a million people to qualify for a second new seat in Congress. Texas has added at least two new seats to its delegation every 10 years since 1980.

Brace cautioned that the data is preliminary, and that population shifts can occur for unexpected reasons. Hurricanes and other unpredictable natural disasters can chase people out of a state; Louisiana lost a congressional district after the 2010 Census, just a few years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans.

“This is change since only last year. It’s not change in the last ten years,” Brace said.

If the trends hold, however, the next apportionment process would mark the least turnover of U.S. House seats between the states since Congress capped the number of members at 435 following the 1940 Census.

Just seven states — California, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois — lost seats in Congress after the last Census. Oregon, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina and Florida all gained a single seat, while Texas added two.