Census favored blue states after all
And at the expense of red states to the tune of almost 2 million people
by Stephen Moore and E.J. Antoni Washington Times, Monday, May 30, 2022
Last year, on these pages, the two of us raised the red flag on erroneous counts of state populations in the 2020 decennial Census. We noted that the headcount for New York, Rhode Island and other blue states appeared way too high given the annual population estimates from 2011 to 2019. It also appeared highly likely that red states like Florida, Tennessee and Texas had dramatic population undercounts.
When we first noted these anomalies, few believed that the Census numbers were this inaccurate.
Little more than a year later, the Census Bureau’s own data proves what we suspected from the beginning: More than a quarter of the states’ populations were miscounted and blue states were favored at the expense of red states to the tune of almost 2 million people.
The alarm bells initially went off in early 2021 when the official census tally in many states was wildly off from the numbers in the Census Bureau’s annual estimates. For context, the figures preceding the 2010 census were all within a fraction of a percent from the official final count. But in 2020, 19 states were off a full percentage point, and many states were off by several percentage points.
One explanation was that abnormalities in 2020, like the pandemic, changed previous population trends. While that seemed plausible at first, a closer examination unveils the fact that domestic migration trends did not reverse but accelerated in many places. New Yorkers, who were already fleeing high taxes, now fled draconian lockdowns and went to Florida in greater numbers. The same was true for Californians moving to Texas at increased rates. Far from nullifying years’ worth of population drain in many blue states, 2020 accelerated it.
Another red flag in the census tally was the fact that the changes were almost exclusively red states being revised down and blue states revised up (Illinois was an exception). The Census Bureau has now admitted that Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — all red states — were undercounted. Conversely, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island — all blue states — were overcounted.
To be fair, there were additional states that did not fit the red and blue pattern of under and overcounting, respectively. However, the changes in those states were not large enough to impact the Constitutional purpose of the decennial census: congressional reapportionment.
The result of this muck up is red states effectively lost at least three seats in Congress while blue states effectively gained them. With a narrowly divided House of Representatives, a six-seat swing is not to be dismissed out of hand. Furthermore, those congressional seats also mean electoral college votes in presidential elections. A more accurate census count would have increased the electoral votes from Florida and Texas in an era when narrow victories are becoming more common.
There is also a dollar value to the erroneous census count because state population is used to divvy up federal funding for countless projects. So, red states will be paying more in federal taxes, due to a higher population with more people working, but receiving less federal funding in return. This represents yet another wealth transfer from red states to blue states.
The inaccuracies of the 2020 census clearly have harmful effects, and it is disturbing that the negative consequences fall essentially only on red states.
To be clear, we are not now — nor were we a year ago — suggesting some kind of grand conspiracy at the Census Bureau. But the Census Bureau is supposed to be the gold standard for counting people, and it owes Congress, and the American people, a precise explanation of how it failed in its Constitutional duties.
It may be too late to correct these errors since reapportionment is already done. But we need to ensure that the bureau takes steps to prevent a repeat in 2030.
Stephen Moore is a distinguished fellow in economics, and E.J. Antoni is a research fellow in the Center for Data Analysis, at the Heritage Foundation. Moore is a cofounder of Committee to Unleash Prosperity where Antoni is a senior fellow.
Related: New U.S. Census Bureau data erases Hawaii’s 2010-2020 population growth
PJ: There Was a Huge ‘Mistake’ in the 2020 Census… Guess Which Party It Favored?