New census data will affect legislative districts | Rich Miller
In the wake of the release of last week’s census figures, the media widely reported an apparent reduction in the number of whites, both nationally and here in Illinois.
“Census shows America is becoming more diverse, white population is shrinking,” the Associated Press reported. “Overall, in the five pass counties, the white population has declined by 183,869 over the past decade,” the report said. Chicago Grandstand reported.
But is it true?
The U.S. Census Bureau itself says that racial and Hispanic demographic changes are “largely due to improvements in the design of the two separate questions for collecting and processing racial data as well as some demographic changes over the past 10 years”. The Census Bureau has been working since 2015 to find another way to ask questions that yields more informative and realistic results. And the Bureau now says the changes it ended up making to its questions gave “a more accurate picture of how people report their Hispanic background and race.”
In other words, while significant population increases, decreases, movements and racial mixing have undoubtedly occurred, the new census questions mean that people are now more able to define themselves, which led to a major change in the results. .
“(T)he number of people identifying as single white dropped by 14% over the 10-year period,” said the State Journal-Register reported on the results from Illinois. “Meanwhile, the number of people who said they were white and at least one other race increased by 334%, or 820,879 people.” If the Census Bureau is correct about the impact of its changes, then all of those 800,000+ people haven’t materialized in the last decade. Many or even most were already there.
The same goes for blacks. “The number of people identifying as black alone, about 1.8 million people, fell 3.1%,” in Illinois, the SJ-R reported. “However, those who said they were black and at least one other race increased by 76,243, or nearly 89 percent.”
And the 15% increase here in people of “Hispanic descent” may have as much to do with the Bureau’s new “closer picture” as real change.
Either way, it’s food for thought, especially since legislative and congressional districts are drawn with these results in mind.
The Annual American Community Survey is a very large poll, but it’s not a meticulous count like the census, so it’s not as accurate. But because census data was unavailable, House and Senate Democrats last spring used average ACS data to draw state legislative maps.
How did it work?
Well, in the city of Chicago alone, the ACS numbers used by Democrats in Illinois appeared to underestimate Hispanic voters by 43,228, according to my consultant Frank Calabrese, who compared the ACS data with the tally. of the recently published census.
For Cook County as a whole, the ACS data used by Democrats for Hispanic origin ended up being 63,495 lower than the official census count. In Lake County, where Latinx activists hoped to create a new majority-minority district, the ACS undercount was 15,690.
What does that mean? We do not yet know where precisely these underestimated people are. Frank needed a few more days to plug in the new numbers in the newly drawn legislative districts.
If these underappreciated Hispanic residents live primarily in newly drawn neighborhoods that lean or are predominantly Latinx, it will help Democrats in the legal challenge brought against the new maps by Latin American organizations by increasing the final percentages of Hispanic origin in these neighborhoods. In other words, the newly drawn districts may very well end up looking “better” than they did with the ACS numbers, as far as the legal case goes.
But if these underappreciated people don’t live in the new Latinx-based districts, Democrats could be forced back to the drawing board before a judge rules against them.
Since we can’t get the district numbers yet, I asked Calabrese to compare the county-level ACS results with the county-level census results. Legislative districts are meant to be “substantially equal” and in the past courts have generally defined this term as a population difference of less than 10% between districts.
The result of Calabrese’s survey was that no Illinois County ACS population used to draw the maps deviated by more than 10% from the final census counts. Only two were even close. The average statewide discrepancy between the ACS and the census was 1.11%. The Democrats’ case could be helped again.