More specific, parish-wide census data for 2020 are in, and from this the contours have become set for state legislative reapportionment in Louisiana.
These data contain population counts by race and age. The data at the most specific levels will be released by the end of September, and because of the much lower tolerances for these regarding congressional districts, as well as the specificity needed for local contests, until then only the impact of the data on reapportionment for the legislature, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Public Service Commission can be scrutinized. (Judicial reapportionment is not required and historically often isn’t done every decade.)
Certain to confuse many casual observers will be the way the census changed its definition of race/ethnicity. In the past, the Census Bureau has caught flak for the way it categorizes people, particularly Hispanics, as being too narrow. For 2020, it tried to address this by creating a matrix of racial backgrounds that specifically allows for combinations.
This can lead to oversimplified conclusions. For example, if in the 2020 data looking at Louisiana’s proportion of “whites alone” and “blacks alone,” the groups compared to 2010 changed by, respectively, -6.3 percent and 0.8 percent. But when including any combination, these change to, respectively, 0.3 percent, 3.8 percent. Further, all other groups expanded dramatically, so changes seen in the traditionally two largest groups, white alone and black alone, partially are an artifact of the new labelling system (where respondents took advantage of the new categories and depopulated others), meaning particularly changes to whites aren’t as profound as they seem. It will be interesting to see what metrics are used in reapportionment, whether “alone” or “alone and in combination” categories.
Population shifts showed two trends: a continuance of flight from rural areas towards metropolitan areas and, particularly, their exurbs; and, somewhat related, gains in the south with retrenchment in the north. Only five parishes entirely north of the Interstate 10/12 line gained population, one being Beauregard just north of I -10 and in the state’s fastest-growing metropolitan area of Lake Charles, and adjacent Lincoln and Ouachita, comprising most of the only one of the three northern metro areas to gain and together home to three universities.
The standout in the north, and the only in the north to rank in the top ten in gains statewide, was Bossier. It gained as a result of the depopulation to its immediate west in Caddo, east in Webster, and south in Red River, all of which dropped double-digits in percentage while it gained in double-digits. The other beneficiary was De Soto, right south of Caddo, barely gaining.
There was a racial component to population shifts. Using the alone and combination categories, black proportions increased in all metro areas – except Orleans, where whites moving in after the hurricane disasters of 2005 decidedly outstripped blacks. Meanwhile, non-urban parishes with black majorities saw their proportions fall in almost every case, except where they held overwhelming majorities, which also tended to have the steepest populations declines (meaning even as blacks decamped, whites decamped at an even higher proportional rate).
As blacks overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and whites often for Republicans, these trends have legislative reapportionment consequences. First, whoever controls the process – the GOP as Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards will play a much smaller role in it than many observers seem to realize – enjoys situations where opposition supporters tend to concentrate more than their own. This makes it easier to create fewer districts intensely packed with opposition voters while making for more districts of solid support overall. That trend seems to be playing out in Louisiana.
Second, the few white no party members or Democrats representing non-black majority districts likely will become fewer. All these rural districts have substantial black populations which (because we don’t have the data yet by census tract/block) should have declined. Thus, it will be easier to reduce black proportions in these, making their holders’ reelection paths more difficult.
Third, opportunities might exist where the GOP suffers from less loyal conservatives representing districts for its legislative party to alter such districts in a more conservative direction, but these will be few and far between. The best example is in Orleans, depending upon where the influx of whites has come. Currently, ultra-leftist Democrat state Reps. Aimee Freeman and Mandie Landry represent two of the white majority Uptown districts, while one of the least loyal Republicans state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty represents the Lakeview area. If that influx disproportionately went to Lakeview, that could improve the chances of a more conservative challenger knocking off Hilferty.
Fourth, House districts will see more radical alterations than those of the Senate. In only two instances does a Democrat represent a non-black majority district in the Senate; Karen Peterson that takes in those uptown districts to give her district a narrow black minority, and Gary Smith, who is term-limited. With him gone, a Republican likely wins and that really maximizes GOP possibilities, so its legislative majority doesn’t have to fiddle with lines too much, and the fact that the districts are almost 2.5 times larger in population also means less dramatic changes happens within these. The exception may come in northwest Louisiana because of the significant shifts into Bossier.
All in all, the data reveal a more positive legislative reapportionment environment for the majority Republicans and portends more balkanized districts.