Shortly before Christmas, the United States Census Bureau released its 2014 State and National Population Estimates. Strikingly, the data released by the Census Bureau shows that the United States’ population is growing at slowest rate since 1937. There is a parallel: Then, as now, we were witnessing a combination of recovery from a weak economy and a strict immigration policy.
The average year-to-year population growth has steadily declined since 1990, which was the peak of the Echo Boom, meaning the increase in the fertility rate in the 1980s and 1990s as Baby Boomers reached their prime years for childbirth.
From 1990–2000, the average year-to-year population growth was 1.30%, but only 0.924% from 2000 to 2010. That being said, American population growth has reached a nadir not seen since the Great Depression, with a year-to-year population growth of only 0.746% from 2013 to 2014.
Regionally, as has been the case for decades, population growth in the West and South greatly outpaced that observed in both the Midwest and Northeast in the past year (1.09% and 1.05% vs. 0.26% and 0.22%, respectively).
At the state level, North Dakota outpaced the other forty-nine states with 2.16% population growth in the past year, while six states — West Virginia, Illinois, Connecticut, Alaska, New Mexico and Vermont — suffered population losses greater than in any year since 1991.
Among larger states (defined as those with populations greater than eight million) only Texas, Florida and Georgia witnessed population growth greater than 1.0% in the past year, while Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania had less than 0.2%.
While census reports give a great deal of societal information (age, ancestry, family size, commuting, computer and internet use, educational attainment, health insurance, housing, immigration, income, language use, poverty, race, and so on), they also offer clues as to what may happen in the next round of redistricting.
The size of the United State House of Representatives has been fixed for more than a century at four hundred and thirty-five voting members.
As a result, when seats are reapportioned after a census, some states lose seats, while others gain them. This not only affects the relative legislative strength a particular state has, but it also changes the makeup of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is set at five hundred and thirty-eight electors, based on there being four hundred and thirty-five U.S. Representatives and one hundred U.S. Senators, as well as three electors from the District of Columbia. Consequently, it redounds to a zero-sum partisan game as the addition of a congressional seat to a blue state is a blow to Republican presidential prospects and vice versa.
In the Pacific Northwest, preceding the 2010 census, there were multiple reports that Oregon and/or Washington appeared poised to gain an additional seat.
Back in 2008, Kimball Bruce, president of Election Data Services, indicated that Oregon was in a good position to gain a 6th Congressional seat.
“Earlier in the decade, we didn’t see Oregon gaining a seat, but Oregon is now showing a strong potential,” he said at the time.
As it turned out, it was Washington that gained an additional seat, not Oregon. After coming so close in 2010, we might be tempted to think that Oregon would be in line for a new seat in 2020, but the data casts doubt upon that prospect.
It could be said that congressional apportionment is analogous to the selection and seeding of teams for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
While there is some subjectivity in the selection process for the NCAA tournament and none with congressional apportionment, both processes both use a numeric value in ranking and deciding which are in and which are out.
The congressional apportionment process uses what’s called “priority value” and the NCAA uses something called the RPI (Rating Percentage Index) for seeding tournaments. It should be noted that many positions are automatic: Each state has at least one U.S. Representative, whereas the NCAA allocates one bid for each team that wins its conference tournament.
Therefore, as with the NCAA tournament, we can consider those Congressional seats near the break point to be “on the bubble.”
That being the case, we can do a bit of bracketology, where we make projections on what congressional seats will be in or out following the next census in 2020.
As background, the aforementioned “priority value” is calculated using the Huntington–Hill method, also known as the Method of Equal Proportions, due to it resulting in a minimization of the percentage differences in the populations of the different congressional districts. The calculation is actually very simple, as it is the geometric mean of a state gaining its nth seat and not gaining that seat or (n‑1). This equates to , where D is the “divisor.”
Then we divide a state’s population by the divisor for gaining that seat number, n, and the result equates to its “priority value.”
Thus, for California, whose 2014 population estimate is 38,802,500, obtaining a second Congressional seat has a priority value of 2.74 x 107, which is equal to or . For California to add a third Congressional seat, the priority value is 1.58 x 107, or . But for Texas to obtain a second seat the priority value is 1.91 x 107 or .
Therefore, California’s 2nd Congressional seat has the highest priority value, next Texas’ 2nd Congressional seat, then California’s 3rd Congressional seat.
It is noteworthy that we begin by calculating the priority value for a state gaining a second congressional seat, since the Constitution, in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, dictates that “each State shall have at least one Representative.”
Thus, once we account for there being at least one representative from each state, there are three hundred and eighty-five congressional seats left to be divvied up among the states using the Huntington-Hill method with the highest three hundred and eighty-five priority values for individual congressional seats being granted and those with lower priority values not.
Below is a chart, following the 2010 Census, of the congressional seats with priority values ranked from 371 to 400, i.e. the final fifteen congressional seats granted and those 15 Congressional seats that fell just short.
|Priority Ranking||State||Congressional Seat|
As is obvious, the final congressional seats awarded were (in order): California’s 53rd, Florida’s 27th, Washington’s 10th, Minnesota’s 8th and Texas’ 36th, while those falling just short were North Carolina’s 14th, Missouri’s 8th, New York’s 28th, New Jersey’s 13th, and Montana’s 2nd.
Oregon’s 6th Congressional seat was ranked 393 following the 2010 census, eight places short of being awarded.
It is worth mentioning that following the 2014 Census Population Estimates, if the Congressional reapportionment were to take place at the current moment, only two seats would be lost — Minnesota’s 8th and Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional seats — and only two seats would be gained — North Carolina and Texas gaining a 14th and 37th Congressional seats, respectively.
But if we were to witness the same state-by-state growth from 2014 to 2020 that we observed from 2010 to 2014 — admittedly a massive assumption — the below table shows the projected “bubble” congressional seats.
|Priority Ranking||State||Congressional Seat||Change|
As we can see, the trend of western and southern congressional seats rising in the rankings, while congressional seats in the Northeast and Midwest fall.
The only state that is projected to gain or lose multiple seats is Texas, which picks up three. Other states gaining seats are California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. The states projected to lose one Congressional seat are Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
Nationally, it’s worth noting that states where President Obama won in 2012 would lose four electors in the Electoral College.
While the President won the Electoral College by an overwhelming 332 to 206 margin in 2012, we need only look back to the contested Presidential election of 2000 to see where a few Congressional seats can make a difference.
If, say, in 2000 California had four more Congressional seats and Texas had four fewer, Al Gore would have won the Presidency, even with the Supreme Court ruling that Bush won Florida. Therefore, a net gain of eight electors in the Electoral College by red states could be significant.
As I mentioned earlier, Oregon does not appear to be in line for a sixth congressional seat. This is due to a very modest growth in the state from 2010 to 2013 of 2.58%, which is only slightly greater than the national population growth over that period of 2.39%.
On the other hand, Oregon had a far better 2014 with a year-over-year growth rate of 1.07%, while nationally the population grew by 0.746%.
Oregon’s hypothetical sixth seat is therefore projected to move up the priority value ranking six places from three hundred and ninety-three to three hundred and eighty-seven — two short of it being awarded. If state population growth stays steady (again, a major assumption) Oregon would need to grow by 14,612 more than the projected 332,890 population gain to be given an additional seat.
As for Washington, we’ve witnessed solid growth of 4.74% over the past four years making it the eighth fastest growing state over that time-span. That being said, Washington is a long way from gaining an eleventh congressional seat with it being projected to be ranked 414 in priority value in 2020.
Regionally, the only Western states projected to gain a Congressional seat are Colorado and California, while Oregon, Arizona, and Montana are three of the four states projected to nearest to gaining an additional seat.
Subsequent census population estimates will give greater clarity as to what the post-2020 Congressional appointment shall be, but currently both the Northwest and the Western U.S. are not forecast as gaining much power in Congress.