What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How the 2020 census affects Washington’s balance of power

The first batch of results from the 2020 census count are in. The bureau released state population numbers today and revealed how the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives has been reset for the next decade, and could affect the electoral college. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter break it down.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the first batch of results from the 2020 census count are in, and the U.S. population top 331 million last year.

    The Bureau also released state population numbers, which will reshape the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.

    Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • Michael C. Cook:

    Good afternoon.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Rarely is a sedate Zoom call this politically dramatic.

  • Michael C. Cook Snr.:

    The South grew the fastest over the last decade, with a 10.2 percent increase in population.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    With jewel-toned backgrounds, U.S. Census staff announced population shifts that could change the red and blue balance in Congress.

  • Dr. Ron Jarmin:

    Let's get to the results you have all been waiting for.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Bureau showed three states in the South have gained enough population to add seats in Congress, Texas gaining two seats and North Carolina and Florida one apiece.

    The other three states adding one each are West, Colorado, Montana and Oregon. In turn, seven states will lose one seat each, California and then a cluster of Rust Belt states, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New York.

    For New York, some sting to the loss. Officials said the state needed to count just 89 more people to keep all of its congressional seats.

    Reporters triple-checked that.

  • Woman:

    Wow. That's a big loss for just 89 people.

  • Woman:

    I can just confirm that the number, when you calculate it, is 89.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This after the census and its army of workers faced a plague of challenges. Coinciding with a once-a-century pandemic was just one.

    The count is as critical as ever. It determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. And it guides at least a trillion dollars to state and local governments for programs like Medicaid, Medicare, school lunches, and more.

    Hansi Lo Wang covers the census for NPR.

    How big a deal is the announcement today?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    This is a very big deal. This is a culmination of nearly a decade's worth of planning and execution last year, and this is a once-a-decade reset of the national political map.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hence the massive drive for responses.

  • Actor:

    Counting everyone in your home helps support your neighborhood for the next 10 years by funding things like schools, hospitals and buses.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But like so much in 2020, the census was hit with unprecedented acts of God and man. March 2018, the Trump administration adds a question asking if people are U.S. citizens. Ultimately, the Supreme Court blocks the idea, but it raises confusion and fear in some immigrant communities.

    January 2019, the partial government shutdown furloughs some census staff during a critical preparation time. March 2020, the coronavirus hits precisely as census forms are mailed out. The agency delays its field operations for almost two months.

  • Then, September 2020:

    Hurricanes and wildfires across the country hit during the crucial final full month of counting.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    The 2020 census was just a mess.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Wang says the layers of issues add to regular questions about undercounted groups, people of color, immigrants and rural Americans.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    For the 2020 census, all of these groups face a higher risk of being undercounted, because the Census Bureau was really strapped to try to get door-knockers out to communities while there were lockdowns in place, while there were major public health concerns, as well as the Trump administration cutting short the amount of time door-knockers had to reach these households.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Census officials today stood by their count.

  • Albert E. Fontenot Jr.:

    We feel very confident that we did a good job of collecting data in spite of the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Even so, states that lost, like New York, are sure to be unhappy, along with some states that gained, like Florida, which expected two new seats, not just one. It's too late to add more population, but states do have one option: to appeal these numbers in court.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to dive deeper into the political ramifications of the census data released today, I'm joined by Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    So hello, Amy.

    Let's take that deeper dive. And tell us a little more about how Democrats, Republicans are affected at the congressional level and then nationally.

  • Amy Walter:

    Sure.

    Well, let's start with the winners. On the map, we saw that Texas was the biggest winner, picking up two seats. But you also notice something else here. Republicans have to be happy with the fact that Texas, Florida and North Carolina all gaining seats. Not only are these states that President Trump — then President Trump won in the 2020 election and the 2016 election, but they also are three states that are controlled completely by Republicans.

    So, Republicans control the entire redistricting process in those states that are going to pick up four congressional seats. Democrats, Oregon, Colorado are two states that Biden carried, President Biden carried in 2020. That is helpful to them.

    And let's go to the losers. We have more states here, seven states that are losing one congressional district. For Democrats you look at some of those big dark blue state, the ones that are the pillars for the Electoral College sort of platform for Democrats to build on, New York, Illinois, California, all the states losing seats, not great for Democrats.

    Republicans losing a seat in West Virginia, that has become now the most Republican state in the country, after Wyoming, and Ohio, a state that used to be a swing state, that is now much more Republican leaning.

    Overall, though, Judy, if we are looking at the national picture right now, if we put this map into play in the 2020 election, all right, so everything else remains the same, it would shift just three electoral votes, three electoral votes away if Biden toward Trump. So, instead of having 306 electoral votes in his victory, it would be 303 electoral votes.

    It doesn't seem like much, but, Judy, when these races now are decided by just such a narrow margin, even one electoral vote can be critical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, every single one. And one can matter.

    And, Amy, tell us, what about in terms of drawing congressional district lines?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are we learning about that?

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

    This is apportionment. So this is the part where the states learn, did you gain or did you lose a seat? But the real nitty-gritty is going to come later this summer when the detailed data is released and they have to start drawing those lines.

    That is when you are going to hear words like gerrymander. Even states that aren't gaining or losing, unless you are a state that only has one congressional district, you have to redraw your lines. Population shifted around a lot. Think about a place like Georgia, where the Atlanta suburbs have been booming, not so much in the other parts in the state.

    So, they're going to have to readjust those congressional lines. You can gain or lose a seat as a party just because — even if you are not gaining or losing a congressional district, right?

    The good news for Democrats, they have more control over the process than they did in 2010, the last time the lines were drawn. The bad news for Democrats, the good news for Republicans is that Republicans still control more than twice as many congressional district lines, in terms of, they have total control for drawing that many more lines.

    That is likely to help, as I said, especially in places that are fast growing, Texas, North Carolina, but also in a place like Georgia, where Democrats have made really big gains in these last two years, but Republicans control the entire line-drawing process.

    And so what you may see there is Democrats actually winning two Senate seats, but in the next upcoming election, they may lose a congressional district.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much depends on who controls these state legislature.

Listen to this Segment