North Carolina will likely have 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives following the post-2020 Census reapportionment process. While we cannot guarantee a 14th seat (no matter how likely), we can guarantee significant changes to the state’s congressional district boundaries during the 2021 redistricting process.
North Carolina’s population has grown substantially in the past few decades, and it continues to grow. At the same time, population is increasingly concentrated in urban cores within the state and rural areas are facing additional population losses. As a consequence of these uneven population changes, many districts were already over or under ideal district size in 2013, in spite of best efforts to ensure equal population during the 2011 redistricting process. Unless current population growth trends change in significant and unexpected directions, these patterns will intensify through 2020, bringing significant changes to the state’s legislative maps during the redistricting process.
While we are not be able to identify where the state’s likely 14th House seat will go, we can use demographic techniques to predict which districts will be out of compliance—and by how much—in 2020. We produced three population projections to examine potential district size in 2020:
Each of these projections was constrained to the most recent 2020 state population projection from North Carolina’s Office of State Budget and Management: 10,574,718. Additional methodological details are provided in the Appendix.
The table below details the observed population of each congressional district in the 2000 Census, the 2010 Census, and the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), as well as the projected 2020 population under the three approaches described above. All data reflect population in the current district boundaries. (A labeled map of current district boundaries and data associated with the 2011 redistricting can be accessed here).
The 2010 total population of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts differed by only one person: districts 4, 7, 9, and 13 had 733,498 residents; the remaining districts had 733,499 residents. A comparison of the 2010 population to the 2000 population reveals significant differences in district population growth over the preceding decade. District 1 in the northeastern region of the state grew by only 36,000 new residents over the decade, a growth rate of 5%. In contrast, District 9, which contains large portions of Charlotte suburbs in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, grew by more than 229,000 or 45% over the same time period.
By 2014, the continuation of these differential growth patterns was already evident. In the 2014 American Community Survey, North Carolina’s districts ranged from an estimated population of just under 743,000 in District 1 to nearly 806,000 in District 9.
North Carolina is projected to add just over 1 million new residents between 2010 and 2020, a growth rate of 11%. Among its 13 congressional districts, seven are projected to have growth rates below the statewide average (Districts 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 11), while the remaining six (Districts 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, and 13) are projected to grow at a faster pace than the state.
Although differences in the projected 2020 population exist across the approaches considered, some general patterns emerge. For example, District 1 grows by about 4,900 people (0.7%) in the extrapolation of 2000-2010 population change, but gains nearly 28,000 (3.8%) under the extrapolation of 2010-2014 population change. On average, District 1 is projected to gain just over 16,000 people, an increase of 2.2%. Regardless of the level of growth, District 1 is projected to be have the smallest district population under all methodologies. As a consequence, it will likely have to take in additional areas to meet district population requirements during the post-2020 redistricting process.
Similarly, District 9 was the fastest growing district between 2000 and 2010, and it is projected to experience continued rapid growth under all methods considered here. It is projected to gain anywhere from 177,000 new residents in the extrapolation of 2010-2014 population change to 190,000 new residents in the extrapolation of 2000-2010 change. On average, this yields a projected population increase of 184,000 or 25%.
North Carolina’s population is projected to reach nearly 10.6 million in 2020. Split equally among 13 congressional districts, this yields an ideal population size of 813,440. If North Carolina picks up a 14th seat during the reapportionment process, the ideal population size of each district would be smaller, 755,337.
In recent years, Supreme Court decisions showed little tolerance for slight deviations from ideal district size. Based on these precedents, and the capacity of computer-based redistricting software to draw precisely equal districts, district populations frequently differ by no more than one person, as they did in North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting process. The Court’s recent decision in Tennant v. Jefferson County Commission suggests that strict adherence to equal population may not be required if the state can prove “population deviations [are] necessary to achieve legitimate state objectives,” although the allowed deviations are likely to remain minimal. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School notes, “[E]ven consistent policies that cause a one percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional.” Based on these precedents, districts that are projected to deviate by more than 0.5% above or below ideal population size in 2020 will be considered clearly out of compliance.
Whether North Carolina has 13 seats or 14 seats in 2020, all of its congressional districts will be out of compliance under the projections considered here. Under either scenario, the slower growing District 1 will be underpopulated compared to ideal population size and will need to expand to gain population. Among the faster growing districts, District 9 is projected to have more than 100,000 residents above the population required for either 13 or 14 seats. Districts 4 and 13, located in and around Wake County, are similarly projected to have more than 100,000 residents above ideal population size in the 14 seat scenario.
The districts in the state’s two fastest-growing metropolitan areas—Districts 9 and 12 in Charlotte and Districts 4 and 13 in Raleigh (as well as portions of 2 and 7)—are projected to be significantly above the ideal population size for 14 districts in 2020. Any new district boundaries will reflect the continued growth of the state’s largest urban areas. While the projections highlight which areas will need more representation (and thus more districts) after 2020, the placement of the districts is ultimately up to the individuals responsible for redrawing the district lines during the 2021 redistricting process.