Population Data Show More Movement South and West

Population Data Show More Movement South and West

By Sean Trende - December 30, 2013

It's that most wonderful time of the year for numbers geeks, when the Census Bureau releases its annual figures for changes in the U.S. population. While these numbers are estimates, they do give us some insight into how the population is shifting.

Once again, we're seeing substantial movement toward the South and West. The biggest population gains from 2012 to 2013 came in Texas (387,000 people), California (333,000), Florida (232,000), North Carolina (100,000), and Colorado (79,000). Meanwhile, the Northeast continues its trend of remaining stagnant. West Virginia and Maine show very slight actual decreases, while Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire all essentially remain the same.

In terms of how this relates to electoral politics, the most interesting way of massaging the data at this point is to compare them to the 2010 numbers, and extrapolate those changes to how the House of Representatives will apportion its seats in 2020.

In 2011, I came up with the following results:

Winners: California (+1), Colorado (+1), Florida (+1), North Carolina (+1), Oregon (+1), Texas (+3)

Losers: Illinois (-1), Michigan (-1), Minnesota (-1), New York (-1), Ohio (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Rhode Island (-1), West Virginia (-1)

In 2012, I predicted the following results, using what we might call a simple linear extrapolation (taking the difference between the 2010 and 2012 numbers, multiplied by five, and adding that to the 2010 figures):

Winners: California (+1), Colorado (+1), Florida (+1), North Carolina (+1), Texas (+2), Virginia (+1)

Losers: Illinois (-1), Michigan (-1), Minnesota (-1), Ohio (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Rhode Island (-1), West Virginia (-1)

Using this method for 2013 (taking the difference between the 2010 and 2013 numbers, multiplying by 3.3, and adding that to the 2010 figures), we come up with the following:

Winners: Colorado (+1), Florida (+1), North Carolina (+1), Texas (+3), Virginia (+1)

Losers: Illinois (-1), Michigan (-1), Minnesota (-1), Ohio (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Rhode Island (-1), West Virginia (-1)

This would result in minor changes to the Electoral College in 2024: three votes would be subtracted from Democratic “blue” states, and added to Republican “red” states. This also suggests that we would see a continuation of the trends from 2012:

New York would fail to lose a seat for the first time since the 1940 census. Michigan would fall to 13 seats, its fewest since the 1910 reapportionment, while Ohio would fall to 15 congressional districts, the fewest the Buckeye State has boasted since the 1820s. California would fail to gain seats for two apportionments in a row—the first time that has happened since it attained statehood in 1850. Rhode Island becomes a single-seat state.

We should note that there are several close calls. The last five seats apportioned are Florida’s 28th, Virginia’s 12th, New York’s 27th, Alabama’s 7th, and Texas’ 39th congressional districts. The states just missing additional seats are California (its next seat will be its 54th), Oregon, and Montana, while West Virginia and Minnesota just barely miss out on keeping their 3rd and 8th seats, respectively. If these numbers hold, Montana would narrowly miss out on regaining the second seat it lost after the 1990 census. In these on-the-cusp states, the calculus could easily change by 2020.

But under the theory that population shifts signify trends, the recent shifts should be counted more heavily. So rather than counting all of the changes from 2010 to July of this year equally, let’s take the average of the shift from 2011 to 2012 and from 2012 to 2013, weighting the latter shift twice. Under that scenario, we get the following results:

Winners: Colorado (+1), Florida (+1), Montana (+1), North Carolina (+1), Texas (+2), Virginia (+1)

Losers: Illinois (-1), Michigan (-1), New York (-1), Ohio (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Rhode Island (-1), West Virginia (-1).

Under this scenario, the last five seats go to Minnesota (8th), Alabama (7th), Virginia (12th), Montana (2nd), and Florida (28th). Just missing seats are New York (27th), California (54th), Texas (39th), Arizona (10th), and Oregon (6th).

This projects a total switch of 14 seats, net. When you control for the size of the House (which was generally increased each decade between 1790 and 1910), this is the fewest number of seats switching between states in a given decade since 1890, and ties for the third-fewest number of seats switching between states in United States history.

I’ve always found this method more valid. Using it gives us the following map:

Again, these estimates will get closer to what 2020 will actually look like over time. The 2007 estimates gave us a very good look at the 2010 apportionment, but the 2003 estimates were still valuable for giving us a rough sketch of how things would change.

What would this mean in the long term? We can estimate what these trends would do to the apportionment in 2040 to get a better sense of the big picture. Now, anything can happen in 30 years, so this should be considered for entertainment purposes only, but it does have some value in amplifying current trends so that we can see them better:

Three things jump out. First, the shale boom in North Dakota is attracting enough people to that corner of the country to help the state gain an extra congressional district (it lost its second seat in the 1970 apportionment).

Second, the current trends are expected to continue, with the Northeast slowly bleeding seats and the Midwest hemorrhaging them. Texas is the big winner here, gaining seven seats. 

Third, the massive population dislocations of the mid-to-late 20th century seem to be slowing down, as we are seeing a relatively small number of seats shifting over the course of 30 years. This envisions only 38 seats, net, switching hands over the course of a 30-year span. Controlling for the size of the House, this is the second-slowest rate of growth over such a time period in U.S. history. 

Things may pick up again when and if the economy returns to normal, but for now, the great slowdown of the 21st century isn’t just a story about the economy. 

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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