Left, Right, Center
How Congressional Districts have moved since 2016
The new Census’ population data that will decide how many House seats each respected state loses over the next decade is out. In general Republican states gained seats, while Democrat states lost ground.
Texas gained two seats while Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Montana, and Oregon gained one. States like New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia will all lose a seat.
It’ll still be months before we see exactly how the seats are redrawn, but with 37 states seeing no change in the number of seats they have, it’s important to take a deep dive into how congressional districts have changed since the 2012 election.
Using Cook Political’s new Political Voting Index rating, I analyzed how congressional districts have changed from 2012 to 2020.
Here is the 2012 map:
Here’s the 2020 map, obviously before seats have changed through redistricting:
There are some noticeable changes that we can all expect. Suburban districts in places like Orange County, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; Houston and Dallas, Texas; and Atlanta, Georgia have become significantly bluer. At the same time, rural counties have become more Republican - despite the race of most voters living there. Three districts in South Texas (majority Latino), seats in North Carolina and Georgia (majority black), and rust belt areas in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota (majority white) have all moved significantly to the right.
Districts that became swing districts on a presidential level, districts in red are trending Republican, and those in blue are trending Democrat.
Several districts that were either reasonably reliably Democratic or Republican are emerging as new swing areas. This will be important for redistricting as Republican states will look to make them more conservative, and Democratic states will try to move them to the left. It reflects more of the urban/suburban and exurban/rural divide, for example, in Michigan, where the 3rd district (encompassing Grand Rapids) moves to the left, while the 5th district (containing Flint and Bay City) is moving to the right.
Even parts of New England like Rhode Island and Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional have moved to the right.
That divide is especially pronounced in Texas and Georgia. Rural Hispanic and black-majority congressional districts have become more Republican, and white suburban communities move to the left. That may be just a Trump phenomenon, but it could also just be a general trend.
When it comes to redistricting, a lot will depend on bolstering Republican support at a precinct and state house district (HD) level.
Let’s take a closer look at what parts of those districts are turning Republican the fastest. In South Texas, HD 31 (which is parts of Congressional districts 15 and 28) moved from a 62-37 Obama district in 2012 and a 55-42 Clinton district in 2016 to a 56-42 Trump district. Likewise, HD 74 (basically all of the 23rd Congressional district) went from 57-41 Obama and 56-40 Clinton district to a 53-46 Trump district.
Even in areas that slid back towards the Democrats in 2020 did not move back to their original place as they had been under Obama. A perfect example of that is the suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island. Obama won HD 42, 43, 44 with 59 percent, 58 percent, and 50 percent of the vote in 2012, respectively. Trump won double-digit victories in all those districts in 2016, and even though he declined in 2020, he still won HD 42 by 53-46 percent, HD 43 by 53-45, and HD 44 by 53-46. Those districts experienced a 30 point swing to make Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional more of a swing seat.
New York's 1st Congressional, which is almost all of Suffolk County, was one of the largest counties Trump won in 2016 and 2020. With eight state assembly seats making up the congressional district, it had been a stronghold for decades - electing a Democrat county executive since 2004 and supporting the Democrat presidential candidate since 1992.
In 2012, Romney won four of the county's eight assembly seats, only one by a double-digit margin. By 2016, Trump won 5 of the districts, all by a double-digit margin, and just narrowly lost two other seats. As was the case in Rhode Island, he lost some support but managed to win the county by a narrow 200 votes.
Traditionally Democratic areas saw themselves move right in 2016, and although they shifted slightly back to the left in 2020, they remained Republican. A perfect example is in Minnesota’s ‘Iron Range.’ HDs 3A, 3B, 5A, 5B, 6A, and 6B make up the northernmost areas of the union stronghold. Before 2018, they’d had a Democrat Congressman for 76 out of 78 years. Their turn towards the GOP was one of the most dramatic transformations in the country.
Even though Biden rebounded from Clinton’s numbers, Trump increased his support in every district but one. Minnesota’s ‘Iron Range’ has been fundamentally realigned to the right.
It’s also important to realize which states that were formally swing seats have moved either far enough towards Republicans or Democrats to basically guarantee a partisan victory.
The progressive blog, which does excellent data analysis, has more illustrations into the trends across the country. Since 2008, 240 House seats have become more Republican, while only 195 have become more Democrat.
“One thing to note, though, is that just because a district became bluer over this 12-year period doesn’t necessarily mean it currently elects a Democrat to the House today, and vice versa. Among the 195 districts in that got bluer, 133 are held by Democrats while 62 are represented by Republicans. Conversely, of the 240 districts that grew redder, 151 elected Republicans last year while 89 send Democrats to Congress,” the Daily Kos blog said.
While Democrat and Republican legislators will scramble to save at-risk incumbents or create new seats for members of their party, the ground is quickly moving around them, and it’s important to realize where potential growth is for both parties. I hope to do another deep dive next month, looking at state legislatures and how they moved since 2012.