Politics

Red states to gain, California to lose power over population shifts

California is on the precipice of a massive loss of political power.
The Texas State Capitol Building in Austin / Photo: Reid Wilson, Pluribus News

Conservative states appear set to gain power after the next decennial census is conducted, while California is likely to suffer an almost unprecedented loss of clout in Congress, after recent population shifts send more Americans south and west.

New calculations of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by Kimball Brace, a demographer and redistricting expert, show eight states are likely to gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the next census and the subsequent reapportionment process, which will take place before the 2032 elections.

Texas is likely to gain four seats in the House of Representatives, swelling its delegation from 38 seats to 42 seats. Florida is likely to add three seats, growing to a 31-member delegation. Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah are all projected to add one seat each.

Because the size of the House of Representatives is fixed at 435 voting members, those gains have to be offset elsewhere — and nowhere will suffer as much as California, the largest state in the nation.

Census Bureau data released last week show California’s population declined by just over 75,000 residents between the middle of 2022 and 2023. If those population trends hold, California would stand to lose four seats in the next reapportionment process, reducing its congressional delegation from 52 seats to 48 seats.

If California’s population loss gets worse, California could be at risk of losing a fifth seat, according to Brace’s calculations.

Such a substantial decline is almost unprecedented in the 120 years since the House grew to 435 members. Only once has a state lost five seats in the House in a single reapportionment process: Following the 1980 Census, New York’s delegation dropped from 39 members to 34.

It would also represent the second consecutive decade in which California’s clout in Congress declined. Following the 2020 Census, California’s House delegation dropped from 53 members to 52, the first time in the state’s 170-year history that its delegation shrank.

The next reapportionment process threatens to slash New York’s delegation again. The Empire State is likely to lose three seats, dropping from 26 members of Congress to 23. Illinois is likely to lose two yseats, while Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are all likely to lose a single seat.

The projections are subject to change over the next seven years, when millions of Americans will be born, will die and will move.

The current trends show some states are close to gaining or losing seats by the narrowest of margins: If Wisconsin loses just 6,212 people — just about 0.1% of the state’s overall population — it would lose its 8th congressional district. If Delaware gains just a few residents, it would add a second seat in the House of Representatives for the first time since the election of 1820.

The Census Bureau data released last week show the United States added more than 1.6 million people over the last year, or about 0.5% of the nearly 335 million people who live in the country. That growth rate is a rebound to pre-pandemic levels, after several years when the growth rate was far lower — but even the rebounded figure represented a slower growth rate than the historical average.

Almost all of the growth that did take place happened in Southern states, which added 1.4 million residents in the last year. Midwestern and Western states each added a little over 100,000 residents, while Northeastern states dropped 43,000 residents.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia saw their populations grow over the last year. Texas’s population grew by 473,000 residents, to 30.5 million. Florida added 365,000 residents, while North Carolina and Georgia each grew by more than 100,000 residents.

South Carolina added 90,000 residents, a growth rate of 1.7% over a single year, slightly faster than the 1.6% growth rates in Florida and Texas.

California was one of eight states to see its population decline over the last year. New York lost more residents, 101,000, than any other, while the populations of Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia also saw populations decline.

The short-term population shifts are a reflection of longer-term trends, in which Americans move out of Northeastern and New England states in favor of Western and Sun Belt states.

A century ago, following the 1930 reapportionment, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania held 130 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, while Texas and Florida sent just 26 members to the House. Today, the four northern states have just 76 votes in the House, while Texas and Florida command 66 votes.