The Changing Terrain of Electoral Votes

Demography isn’t destiny, no matter how many people insist otherwise. Two recent reports underscored that reality.

First let’s look at the big picture. This past week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual population estimates. These estimates aren’t the same as the actual census, on which such important – and, to today’s exercise, relevant – decisions as reapportionment are based. But they are a pretty good preview of the real thing.

A quick refresher: Reapportionment is how the U.S. House of Representatives’ 435 members are reallocated every 10 years among the 50 states. America has added more than 20 million people since 2010, but that growth was distributed unevenly. Reapportionment attempts to keep the number of people represented by any particular House member as close to the same as possible.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the new estimates found nine or 10 states may lose a House seat after this year’s reapportionment. It found five states stand to gain a seat, while Florida looks to add two and Texas three.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Because states get one electoral vote for each House member and senator they have, this shift could have consequences for the 2024 presidential election. Based on the Journal’s analysis, there could be a net reduction of five electoral votes for states won by Joe Biden, and a corresponding gain of five for states won by Donald Trump.

On election night, several scenarios had Biden barely winning the 270 electoral votes needed to take the presidency. A new map with a 10-electoral-vote swing from blue to red could have made a difference then, and very well might next time.

There are longer-term trends at play. The “blue wall” of states that now have gone for Democrats in at least five straight elections held 197 electoral votes as of 2020, while their “red wall” counterparts boasted only 153. Add the states that have gone for the same party in four of the past five elections, and it’s a 276-206 advantage – enough for any Democrat to win as long as he or she holds the line. That’s what “demography is destiny” looks like.

However, this advantage has been shrinking over time. The blue and bluish-purple states already have lost 12 electoral votes since 1990, while the red and reddish-purple ones have picked up 11 (true toss-up states gained the other). If the Journal’s analysis proves correct, that shift will become more pronounced, and the blue/bluish-purple wall will be down to 270 electoral votes. That’s still an enviable starting place, but not nearly as strong. Destiny ain’t what it used to be.

Now let’s look at a more micro level. The New York Times examined precinct-level election results from 2020, particularly for big-city neighborhoods with large immigrant populations, and found something startling: an unmistakable shift toward Trump.

While Biden still won countywide in these areas, the growth of Trump’s vote in immigrant-heavy precincts from 2016 to 2020, compared to the growth from Hillary Clinton’s total to Biden’s, was stunning. Trump grew his vote total in such precincts at a rate three times faster than Biden’s in Los Angeles, 39 times faster in New York City, four times faster in Houston, 24 times faster in Chicago. In Miami, Trump’s vote in these precincts grew by 61% while Biden’s fell by 6%; in Philadelphia, Trump grew by 111% while Biden fell by 17%.

In a deeper dive into Cook County, where Chicago is located, the Times noted that Trump outperformed in heavily Latino areas, including those with large numbers of Mexican-Americans, as well as in precincts with large numbers of Chinese and Arab immigrants – all after spending four years being accused of xenophobia for his rhetoric and policies toward Mexico, China and the Arab world.

Keep in mind, Trump still lost these areas. But the terrain is changing.

Put these macro and micro views together, and you have the conditions for a true reordering of American politics, demography be damned.

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