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A wasted chance for a third House seat

A wasted chance for a third House seat

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The new data from the 2020 U.S. census were released on April 26. They indicate that seven states will have fewer seats in Congress than they do right now, and that six will have more. Texas was the big winner, gaining two new seats.

But there was a big surprise. Our research indicated that Texas would gain three new seats, not two. In addition, we expected that Florida would gain two seats, but it only gained one. Arizona should have gained one new seat, but it gained none. And we predicted that California would lose two seats, but it only lost one.

Why did this happen? Starting in 2018 through 2020, Donald Trump and his administration attempted to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and they also tried to exclude undocumented people from the census counts. These and other efforts resulted in an intimidation of Latinos and, we believe, led to many of them not participating in the 2020 census. Trump also tried to halt early the actual process of census enumeration.

It turns out that the three Sunbelt states of Texas, Arizona and Florida all ended up with 2020 census counts considerably below what was expected. In contrast, California ended up with a much higher count in 2020 than was expected, almost 120,000 more residents.

The four states of California, Texas, Arizona and Florida are all similar in terms of high percentages of Latino residents and difficult to count persons. Almost 40% of California’s population is Latino, and the same applies to Texas. In the four states of Texas, California, Arizona and Florida reside 56 percent of all the Latinos in the U.S.

Why were Texas, Florida and Arizona undercounted, and why did California end up with a larger population? One very important reason is that Texas, Florida and Arizona did not devote much attention to statewide campaigns to improve their census counts, whereas California did.

States that developed complete count campaigns for the most part did not lose seats. For instance, the small state of Alabama, with a population of only 5 million people — fewer than the greater Houston region — devoted several million dollars to an “Alabama Counts, 2020 Census” campaign; more than 100,000 more people were counted in Alabama than expected. Most demographers expected that Alabama would lose a seat in 2020; it didn’t lose it.

California ended up with a larger population than expected. The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, devoted almost $200 million in a “Be Counted California” campaign, a statewide outreach and awareness program focused on counting all California residents in the 2020 Census. It worked; a lot more people were counted in California than was anticipated. As a result California only lost one seat, not two as expected.

The three states of Texas, Florida and Arizona all ended up with much smaller populations than expected. These states are led by Republican governors, Greg Abbott in Texas, Ron DeSantis in Florida and Doug Ducey in Arizona. These governors and their Republican colleagues devoted hardly any funding at all in “everyone be counted” campaigns. All three states were laggards compared to other states where large amounts of funding were devoted to increasing the participation of residents in the 2020 census. Gov. Abbott and his colleagues in Texas never even set up a statewide committee to increase the participation of Texans in the 2020 Census. Unlike Newsom in California, Govs. Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey devoted little attention and funding to statewide coverage campaigns. As a consequence, Texas ended up not gaining its third new seat, Florida didn’t get a second new seat, and Arizona didn’t get a new seat.

Abbott and the Republicans in Texas thought that by threatening and intimidating Latinos and undocumented persons, many of them would not respond to the 2020 census. We believe this indeed happened. But what Abbott and his colleagues didn’t figure into their unjust and prejudicial actions and declarations is that Texas would not get the third House seat that everyone thought would occur. The same thing happened in Florida and in Arizona.

It makes absolutely no political sense not to count every resident of the state in the decennial census, and to develop statewide programs to do so. In the years between now and 2030, Govs. Abbott and DeSantis and Ducey will become more and more aware of their mistakes and the lack of activity in their states in not working toward getting more of their residents counted in the 2020 Census. We suspect they will wish they had followed the example of their fellow governor in California.

Dudley L. Poston, Jr. is an emeritus professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. Rogelio Sáenz is a professor of demography at The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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