Minority Population Gains Won’t Guarantee More Political Clout

  • Redistricting could make winning hard for minority candidates
  • Citizenship rates among Hispanics also can be election factor

The 2020 census underscored the increasingly diverse U.S. population but whether that translates into more political power for minorities may depend on other factors, including redistricting.

The clout that Democratic-leaning racial and ethnic minorities wield will hinge partly on how they’re distributed among the 435 House districts that state legislatures and redistricting commissions will redraw for the next decade of elections beginning in 2022.

Republicans will redraw more than twice as many districts as Democrats, who are defending a five-seat House majority. Commissions will have a greater role in crafting districts than ever before.

“Good data alone does not representative districts make because we know that too often politics tries to trump math,” Clarissa Martinez, deputy vice president at UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, said during a news conference on Aug. 12. “But our nation is in a moment of reckoning with who we are.”

While the census data “brought Democrats good news, it only offsets a small fraction of the GOP’s dominance over redistricting,” David Wasserman, the House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, wrote in an Aug. 13 analysis.

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According to the Census Bureau, much of the national population growth since 2010 was driven by Hispanics, who rose to 18.7% of the U.S. population of 331.4 million. The Hispanic population increased by 11.6 million and accounted for 51% of the overall population growth of 22.7 million during the decade.

Photographer: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg
President Joe Biden speaking during a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the Oval Office on April 20.

Census data also showed large gains over 2010 among Asian-Americans and people who identified as two or more races. The Black population grew more slowly, while the number of non-Hispanic whites shrank for the first time and was 57.8% of the population in 2020. Hispanics may be of any race. The bureau urged caution in comparing race and ethnicity data between 2010 and 2020 because of changes to question format.

Texas Gain

States to watch include Texas, which is gaining two House districts after it increased its population by 4 million since 2010 and by 2 million among Hispanics. The census showed there were about as many Hispanics in Texas — 11.4 million, or 39% of the statewide population — as non-Hispanic whites (11.6 million). People of color overall accounted for more than 95% of Texas’ population growth.

Texas’ predominantly Mexican-American Hispanic population leans Democratic, though Republicans made major gains in the 2020 election among Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley. Republicans, who control the legislature and statewide offices, are in charge of drawing a 38-district map.

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In Colorado, Hispanics rose to 22% of the population and helped the state gain an eighth House district that will be drawn by a commission.

The House includes 55 members who are Black, 44 who are Hispanic, and 16 who are Asian-American and Pacific Islander, according to the Congressional Research Service. Some House members belong to more than one group.

Black Districts

While many Black members of Congress represent Black-majority or Black-plurality districts, they’ve increased their numbers in part because of recent political successes in districts with small Black populations. Democrats Joe Neguse (Colo.), Antonio Delgado (N.Y.), Jahana Hayes (Conn.), and Lauren Underwood(Ill.) and Republicans Burgess Owens (Utah) and Byron Donalds (Fla.) were first elected in 2018 or 2020 in districts that are less than 10% Black.

While the Hispanic population exceeds the Black population, Hispanic political clout has lagged because the population is overwhelmingly young and has lower rates of citizenship, voter registration and turnout than non-Hispanic race groups.

“Given the growth of the Latino population, it is critical that as states and localities move forward with redistricting, their maps take this growth into account, ensuring that Latinos have fair opportunities to elect candidates who are responsive and accountable to their needs,” Arturo Vargas, the CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, said in a statement.

With assistance from Alex Ebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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