The lesson from the census: The GOP may have shot itself in the foot

The lesson from the census: The GOP may have shot itself in the foot

Originally Published in The Washington Post

Opinion by Jennifer Rubin - April 27, 2021

The census reapportionment numbers are to politics what the NFL Draft is to football fans. There is endless fodder for speculation and second-guessing in both, and what is obvious after the fact is not necessarily apparent when decisions are made.

As a result of the 2020 Census, Texas will gain two congressional seats while Florida, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina and Montana each gain one. New York, California, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and West Virginia each lost one. If the new changes had been in place in November, President Biden would have collected three fewer electoral votes but would have still easily cleared the 270 needed to win.

While the top-line numbers suggest Republicans gained and Democrats lost, the reality is far more complex. For starters, a slew of Democratic insiders, pollsters and lawyers breathed a sigh of relief because they expected far more losses in blue states. New York and California “only” lost one each, and Rhode Island did not lose any. Likewise, Texas could have gained three and Florida two.

This, in turn, raises the question as to whether Republican attempts to intimidate Hispanics by inserting a citizenship question in the 2020 Census (eventually disallowed by the courts) boomeranged. We do not know how many Hispanics were frightened by this ploy (thereby potentially depressing the count), but it is a reminder that simply because Republicans engage in antidemocratic tactics designed to preserve white supremacy does not mean they know what they are doing. They are entirely capable of self-sabotage.

Just as efforts to suppress the count of Hispanics may have hurt Texas Republicans, efforts to roll back access to voting throughout the country could also harm turnout among the GOP’s own voters, including the elderly and those in rural areas. The tactics are wrong and anti-democratic regardless of which party they impact, but there is no guarantee that Republicans’ Jim Crow-style laws will help them win elections.

In addition, the state gains and losses do not tell us much unless we know who is in charge of redistricting and where populations shifted within states. Democratic lawyer and voting guru Marc Elias explained:

Moreover, the upcoming redistricting fights point to the necessity of ridding states of partisan gerrymandering. Requiring independent bodies — not self-interested politicians — to set new district lines is one of many voting protections in H.R. 1. As former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. testified before a Senate committee in March: “Gerrymandering has corrupted our electoral system and weakened our democracy by making some votes count more than others. The politicians who represent these manipulated districts know that their biggest obstacle to re-election lies in the primary, not the general election, which means they are incentivized to cater to the extremes of their base instead of reaching across the aisle to find common ground. The result is polarization and gridlock.”

Ending partisan gerrymandering is less emphasized than many other voting rights protections (e.g., automatic registration, no-excuse absentee voting), yet it is nevertheless a critical democratic reform. The only way to avoid another House election in which partisans pick their voters is for the Senate to move swiftly on H.R. 1.

In addition, the 2020 Census confirms that population growth has slowed to a snail’s pace. The nation’s total population is now more than 331 million, meaning it grew only 7.4 percent over the last 10 years, the second-lowest increase ever recorded (barely edging out the 1930′s, the decade of the Great Depression). The anti-immigrant argument that we are too crowded is a smokescreen for nativism. Indeed, with an aging population and fewer new workers than needed to generate economic growth, pay taxes and support our entitlement programs, the United States should be increasing legal immigration. A slowing population means a slowing economy with fewer customers, workers and taxpayers.

Finally, the census shows the extent of the population boom in the District of Columbia. The Post reports, “Washington’s population has grown 14.6 percent, from about 602,000 to 689,545.” That makes D.C. bigger than Vermont and Wyoming and underscores the unfairness and injustice in denying the benefits of statehood to nearly 700,000 Americans.

The census is a timely reminder that America is not a fixed demographic entity. The United States is constantly renewing and transforming itself. As much as that freaks out certain political tribes, the only constant in American demographics is change.

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