Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: The electoral map is still growing redder, but not as quickly

The 2020 census, and the reapportionment of congressional seats that takes place afterward, may seem far off. But control of the state legislatures and governor's offices that redraw the lines is up for grabs this November in many states, including Georgia. With so much on the line, it's not too early to peek at what may happen.

All the more so after the Census Bureau late last month released new population estimates for 2017. A few political data-crunchers have looked at the numbers and trend lines and reached a couple of relevant conclusions. First, after adding four seats since the 1990 census, Georgia appears unlikely to gain a 15th seat in the U.S. House after 2020. The state continues to grow -- we ranked eighth in size, sixth in numeric growth and narrowed the gap with the state ranked just ahead of us, Ohio, compared to a year ago -- but too many states are closer to the cusp of adding a seat than we are. Fourteen will have to do for another 10 years.

There will, however, be a good bit of shifting around among other states after 2020, according to projections. Election Data Services looked at three scenarios -- one based on a year's growth, one based on three years of growth, and one based on the trend since 2010 -- and found pretty much the same story across them all. Texas will gain either two or three seats; Florida will gain two; and Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one. The only question is whether Texas will get that third additional seat, or if Montana will get it instead; only the shortest-term trend favors Montana. In all three scenarios, the same nine states are headed toward a loss of one seat apiece: Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. Here's what the change looks like on a map based on the longest-term trend:

What that means for majorities in the House is anyone's guess: The same electoral map produced the 2006 Democratic wave as well as the 2010 GOP wave, and the same map that has yielded Republican majorities since 2010 is not thought to be an insurmountable obstacle for Democrats this fall now that political conditions are more favorable to them. But keep in mind that apportionment of House seats also affects electoral votes in presidential elections. And here, it's clear the map is bound to get a bit redder -- but only a bit.

EDS re-ran the Electoral College results for every presidential election since 2000 using its 2020 projection (the longer-term trend that gives Texas three more seats). Here's what it found would have happened compared to the actual results:

2000: George W. Bush would have won 19 more electoral votes than he actually got.

2004: Bush would have won 11 more.

2008: John McCain would have won eight more.

2012: Mitt Romney would have won three more.

2016: Donald Trump would have won one more.

None of the election results would have actually changed, and interestingly, the 2000 election still would have hinged on the delayed, controversial outcome in Florida. But each map would have been a little redder than it was, though less so each time. It's worth noting votes were also reallocated after the 2000 and 2008 elections, which helps to amplify the change in results for the elections that followed. The lesser increase for Trump in 2016 is also due in part to the fact that he won some long-blue or -purple states -- think Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- that went to Democrats in some earlier elections but stand to lose seats after 2020.

It appears, then, we're entering a flattening of the electoral-vote shift that has favored Republicans for a few decades as Americans left the Northeast and Midwest for the Sunbelt. Some of that is because Western states that have come to lean more toward Democrats, such as Colorado and Oregon, continue to grow quickly. Some of it is because red states such as Alabama and West Virginia are losing ground. And some of it, as I said before, is because Trump altered the map in 2016 by winning in the Midwest. But whatever the reasons, it doesn't look like the GOP will be able to continue relying on a southward demographic shift to help it pick up a few electoral votes each reapportionment cycle.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.