Larger Common Denominators

27 04 2021

Washington, D.C.

Census has dropped the Congressional apportionment numbers for 2020.

Missouri stays at eight, Illinois loses one.

You might remember that I covered the Missouri redistricting saga ten years ago on a serial basis. That’s because Missouri went down from nine to eight districts after 2010, so the politics then were contentious. It won’t be so big of a headache this time around, because it’ll be the same eight districts, with slightly pushed around boundaries.

Now, as far as the big picture:

A lot of this is simply the mathematics of denominators. Because the total American population is getting larger and larger, same for most states, it means that, with every passing decade, the change in a given state’s population as a percentage of the national population is getting smaller and smaller (either increasing or decreasing), and also that it’s harder and harder for a state to be growing or declining in percentage terms decade over decade compared to the percentage growth rate country at large, meaning that it is getting mathematically harder and harder for a given state to gain or lose two seats, or even one seat.

And that’s the crucial point that can’t be missed. A state can grow in population decade over decade, and not only not gain seats, but lose seats. Because the House is fixed at 435, the important factor isn’t the state’s raw number growth or decline, it’s the state’s percentage growth relative to the country’s percentage growth. Like I wrote above, because denominators keep getting larger, percentages keep getting smaller.

I see that in 2020, only Texas gained two, not many others gained even one, and only a few states lost one, none lost two. New York State came within 89 people of not losing one at all. For the first time ever, California is losing a seat, and that circles back to my point above about how a state can still gain population, even a lot of warm bodies, and lose seats. It’s that California’s population growth in the 2010s was some number less than the national population growth of 7.4%, and it was below it enough such that California’s total percentage of the national population in 2020 is lower than it was in 2010, and considering that California had 55 seats, it was actually pretty easy mathematically speaking for it to lose a seat. Really fast growing Arizona and Georgia didn’t gain any, and that circles back to my point about the paramount factor being percentages and denominators, not raw numbers. Arizona and Georgia now have enough people such that either state gaining a million people in a decade is a decreasingly smaller percentage increase.

In 2030, I predict that no state will either gain or lose two, and that the list of states that gain or lose even one will get smaller.

As an aside, back in 2010, I proposed an idea called “Median Ten.” I would not leave the House at 435 seats permanently. Instead, I would let it float, and the median state population would get ten seats, and then adjust from there to more or less populous states. And the Electoral College would also adjust. For instance, Median Ten applied to the 2010 Census would have meant a 699-member House, meaning 802 total EC votes, meaning 402 to win the Presidency.

I don’t know if I would advocate the exact same thing today, because a whole lot of the DNA of the German MMPR system has rubbed off on me. I suppose a decent combination would be some sort of median plan combined with each state getting the same number of seats at-large, (“list seats,” in German parlance translated to English), and the at-large seats would be proportioned nationwide along national popular vote. In advocating that, yes, I’m thinking about a certain blue-clad German party.


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