WASHINGTON — Wisconsin’s share of Congressional seats was unchanged by the 2020 Census, but the nation’s political center of gravity shifted further to the Republican-led South and West, with Texas, Florida and other Sun Belt states gaining congressional seats while chillier climes like Michigan, Ohio and Illinois lost them.
Wisconsin will retain the eight seats it has had since losing a seat in 2000. The eight districts have yet to be redrawn, a process that is expected to be contentious with a Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor.
Altogether, the U.S. population rose to 331,449,281, the Census Bureau said, a 7.4% increase that was the second-slowest ever.
Wisconsin’s population rose to 5,893,718, a 206,732 or 3.6% increase from the 2010 Census. The Badger State remains the 20th most populous. It’s population growth rate ranked 34th among the 50 states.
The new allocation of congressional seats came in the U.S. Census Bureau’s first release of data from a 2020 headcount. The numbers chart familiar American migration patterns, and confirm one historic marker: For the first time in 170 years of statehood, California is losing a congressional seat, a result of slowed migration to the nation’s most populous state, which was once a symbol of the country’s expansive frontier.
The census release marks the official beginning of the once-a-decade redistricting battles. The numbers released Monday, along with more detailed data expected later this year, will be used by state legislatures or independent commissions to redraw political maps to account for shifts in population.
Those shifts have largely been westward. Colorado, Montana and Oregon all added residents and gained seats. Texas was the biggest winner — the second-most populous state added two congressional seats, while Florida and North Carolina gained one. States losing seats included New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Minnesota retained its eight seats, but would have lost one if New York had counted 89 more people.
The reshuffling of the congressional map moved seats from blue states to red ones, giving Republicans a clear, immediate advantage. The party will have complete control of drawing the congressional maps in Texas, Florida and North Carolina — states that are adding four seats.
In contrast, though Democrats control the process in Oregon, Democratic lawmakers there have agreed to give Republicans an equal say in redistricting in exchange for a commitment to stop blocking bills. In Democratic Colorado, a nonpartisan commission will draw the lines, meaning the party won’t have total control in a single expanding state’s redistricting.
It’s been a bumpy road getting this far. The 2020 census faced a once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, allegations of political interference with the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question, fluctuating deadlines and lawsuits. Division of federal money to the states is also at stake.
The GOP can shape districts to maximize the influence of Republican voters and have a major advantage in upcoming elections — possibly enough to win back control of the U.S. House.
But in the long term, it’s not clear the migration is good news for Republicans. Many of the fastest growing states are increasingly competitive political battlegrounds where the new arrivals — including many young people and people of color — could at some point give Democrats an edge.
“What’s happening is growth in Sun Belt states that are trending Democratic or will soon trend Democratic,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
That means Republicans may be limited in how many favorable seats they can draw as Democrats move to their territory.
“It’s going to be harder and harder for the Texas Legislature to gerrymander advantageous congressional districts” for Republicans, said William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston. “Texas hasn’t flipped blue yet as a state, but the blue population centers are growing really fast.”
‘The new California’
Fulton, who moved to Texas from California, said his former home has become “the new California — the big state that’s adding a lot of population.” He believes California risks becoming the new Northeast — which he characterized as a stagnant, crowded area that retains wealth and intellectual clout but loses innovators to more promising places.
Despite California’s slow growth, the state still has 10 million more residents than Texas.
North Carolina and Texas, Fulton said, are positioned to become the intellectual powerhouses of the new economy, as the South has snatched away major manufacturing industries like automobiles from the Rust Belt. “We are 10-20 years away from the South and the West being truly dominant in American culture and American society,” Fulton said.
But population booms also bring new burdens, like increased traffic, rising home prices and strains on an infrastructure already grappling with climate change — vividly illustrated when the Texas power grid failed in the winter storms of February.
The pattern outlined in the the Census data was one started in the 1930s with the invention of modern air-conditioning and has been steady since then, according to experts. The only change in the pattern was the halt in California’s growth.
That has happened as home prices have soared in California, contributing to a steady stream of residents leaving for other Western states. Those relocations helped turn Colorado and Nevada into Democratic states and made Arizona competitive.
“That’s the California exodus, blue state immigrants,” Frey said. “Californians are taking their votes and moving to other places.”
The power shift is also being driven by Hispanics. Over the decade, Hispanics accounted for around half of the growth in Arizona, Florida and Texas, according to figures from the American Community Survey, a Census Bureau program separate from the decennial census.
The state population figures known as the apportionment count determine not only political power but the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.
The legal deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers was Dec. 31, but the Census Bureau pushed back that date to April because of challenges caused by the pandemic and the need for more time to correct not-unexpected irregularities.
More detailed figures will be released later this year showing populations by race, Hispanic origin, gender and housing at geographic levels as small as neighborhoods. This redistricting data will be used for redrawing precise congressional and legislative districts.
Fave 5: Reporter Chris Hubbuch's favorite stories of 2020
My favorite stories to write are those that require me to learn about something new and force me to see the world from a different perspective. There were many such stories to tell during this extraordinary year, though none of my top five were directly related to the pandemic.
I’d known Wisconsin was a big producer of mink pelts, but I didn’t know that most of the North American fur trade moved through a Stoughton business that traced its lineage back to the Hudson Bay Company. The folks at Saga Furs, who took over the operations of North American Fur Association, were kind enough to teach me about the business and let us photograph them.
Few landscapes have captivated me like the Driftless region, where I was fortunate enough to live for nearly 15 years. It’s an enchanting place with unrivaled beauty, and, it turns out, is also highly resilient to climate change, providing habitat for species that left other parts of southern Wisconsin with the retreating glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. Also, never pass up a chance to spend time in the woods while on the clock.
Journalists spend a lot of time writing about problems -- after all, it’s not news when a plane lands safely -- so it’s refreshing to be able to write about solutions. In this case, a very simple solution -- farming the way it was done for centuries -- fixes so much. It can help farmers turn a profit, keep soil where it belongs, protect lakes and streams, and even fight climate change. And the Gruenfelders are good people running a quality farm on some of the most scenic land in the world.
Full disclosure: for the better part of five decades many of my happiest moments have occurred while riding a bike. I’ve also seen how outdoor recreation opportunities played a role in economic development of two cities I’ve called home -- Chattanooga and La Crosse. So the prospect of developing a city-wide offroad trail network excites me for personal reasons as well as its potential to improve the quality of life for all residents.
This was one of the more difficult stories I wrote this year, largely because of the complexity of the contamination and remediation concerns but also the long history of the plant and redevelopment efforts that weren't familiar to me as a recent transplant. It didn't help that I wrote the story from my daughter's hospital room during a one-day procedure that took four days. (She's fine.)
After a 350-year-old Canadian fur trading company went bankrupt just as Wisconsin mink farmers were beginning their harvest, a Finnish competitor is breathing new life into the state’s oldest industry.
As the climate changes, species move to adapt. Preserving these unique areas can help them survive.
For an industry battered by unstable commodity prices, rising costs, market constraints and extreme weather, grassland farming represents a bright spot.
Madison has long enjoyed a reputation as a two-wheel haven. But opportunities for off-road adventures are limited, usually involving a trip to a neighboring community or beyond. A new plan seeks to change that.
“This was a lot more than Weinerville,” said one resident who hired an environmental law firm to report on potential contamination. “It’s a big evolution from a century ago when the Mayer brothers came up here from Chicago."