Will Oregon pick up a sixth congressional seat? Don't be so sure.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

The post earlier this week about redistricting touched off another round of speculation about whether Oregon will pick up a 6th congressional district.

Now, this is something I've been watching for quite a few years now. Every December, when the state-by-state population estimates come out from the Census Bureau, I run the numbers. It's a bit of complex math, but hey, I'm that kind of nerd.

And while I know that there are some pundits out there confidently predicting that Oregon will pick up a sixth seat, I'm not so sure. I think we're right on the bubble.

It's true that Oregon's been growing. But so has the country as a whole. From the hard count in the 2000 Census to the bureau's 2007 estimate, Oregon grew 9.5% - but the nation grew 7.2%. Eighteen states grew faster than the nation (led by Nevada at 28.3%) and 32 states grew slower (Louisiana lost 3.9%, almost all from Katrina.)

Put it another way: In 2000, Oregon was 1.218% of the nation's population. By 2007, we were up to 1.245% of the nation.

If reapportionment were based on the latest Census Bureau estimate in 2007, Oregon would stay at five seats. In fact, we wouldn't even be close -- at #439, we'd be four spots out. (Overall: +2 for TX, +1 for AZ FL GA NC NV, -1 for IA LA MA MO NY OH PA.)

But every year the population shifts a little bit. And if it continues to shift at the same rate it has from 2000 through 2010, we'll be right on the bubble. We'll be at 1.255% of the national population, and we'll pick up a sixth seat (but barely, at #434.) (Overall: +4 for TX, +2 for AZ FL, +1 for GA NC NV OR, -1 for IL IA LA MA MI MO NJ PA, -2 for NY OH.)

(Incidentally, Washington's potential 10th district would be #436. A net northward shift of just 8,000 residents would cause us to switch places. We might be in for a nasty inter-state legal fight. Not that either state would likely have a claim even as strong as the one Utah made, which was dismissed.)

That's the seven-year trend. The most recent one-year trend favors Oregon even more. If we grow at the same pace we did from 2006 to 2007, we'll be 1.264% of the nation - and our sixth seat will be #432. (Overall: +4 for TX, +2 for AZ FL NC, +1 for GA NV OR SC, -1 for CA IL IA LA MA MI MN MO NJ PA, -2 for NY OH.)

Of course, we're sitting here talking about a July 2007 estimate, and a lot has changed since then - both nationally and in Oregon. It wouldn't take very many people fleeing the foreclosure disasters in Nevada, Florida, Michigan, California, Colorado, and Ohio to shift the map dramatically. (Californians moving to Oregon may shift things dramatically for us.) And we may see a shift back from Texas to Louisiana as Katrina refugees come home. And of course, these are all estimates. The Census Bureau is pretty good at this by now, but there's a reason they do the hard count every ten years.

The 2008 numbers will be coming out next month. I'll keep ya posted.

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    Kari, maybe in the comments could you explain your process a little bit more, specifically the way you calculate the seat allocation based on the estimates?

    Two things to keep in mind--one of which you note--is that the intercensal estimates are by nature not as accurate as the decennial survey, since they are samples. The decennial survey used for apportionment of seats is still the headcount version, and will be unless the Obama administration overturns the Bush decision to deny sampling for apportionment (and any challenges are resolved). So while it gives a good guide, and I think probably makes a reasonable case that it's not a foregone conclusion OR will pick up a seat. Also worth noting is that the locality (in this case the whole state) can challenge the censal estimate in court, if they believe they were shortchanged. And if it came out and OR was just a bit short of getting that seat, you'd better believe we'll challenge. (I hope!)

    The other thing to keep in mind is that for the first time in 2009, the drive to give DC a vote may actually pass. Smith was one of the filibusterers, and I believe Merkley is in favor. It was pretty close to begin with, and the DCVote people are pretty optimistic it will happen.

    I bring this up because part of the deal in the bill last time was that Utah would get a corresponding pickup so there's no brouhaha over giving the Dems a rock-solid seat, effectively a +1 pickup. With a larger majority these days, would there be as much push to retain that kind of deal? I don't know, but my guess would be that it would simply become an easier giveaway to the GOP. So Utah's pickup might be off the table by then--the question would be whether that would be the seat Utah loses to Oregon, or whether they would somehow try to guarantee that seat for at least one decade.

    Fun to think about though, and I really need to link to AN's map. That was mindblowing!

  • Admiral Naismith (unverified)

    Fun to think about though, and I really need to link to AN's map. That was mindblowing!

    Oh, good--a more appropriate place to mention maps! Here's a page of completely nonpartisan maps simply based on the goal of using as few lines as possible.


    I'm still trying to figure out what a sixth Oregon district would look like, and where it would go. Sprawling across the Cascades from the Willamett Valley to bend is still my best guess. I still think a "State of Jefferson" district would be a truly terrible idea for progressives.

  • Stefan (unverified)

    Interesting analysis. Thanks for addressing this, Kari.

    I still think that spillover from California, both in terms of Hispanics moving north to our agricultural sector and in terms of retirees settling in the Siskiyous, will probably put us over the edge. But I guess I can't guarantee that.

    Can't wait for this December's estimates!

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    Kari, maybe in the comments could you explain your process a little bit more, specifically the way you calculate the seat allocation based on the estimates?

    Well, you start with some population numbers. The math is complex but straightforward. For the folks who want to do it themselves, I recommend the Census Bureau's explanation.

    But let me describe the process in a narrative that will help explain it.

    First, understand that every state gets at least one congressional seat, no matter how small. So you assign every single state a single seat.

    Now, your goal is make every seat as close in population as possible to all the others. (With 310 million people and 435 seats, you want them to be roughly 692,000 each.)

    So, in assigning the 51st seat, you ask yourself: which state has districts the most outta whack? Well, that's California, with a single "district" of 36 million folks. So, you assign #51 to CA (and each of the two becomes an 18 million person district.)

    Now, #52. The "district" in Texas is 25 million people. So, #52 goes to TX.

    <h1>53 goes to California, #54 to New York, and so on.</h1>

    Pretty quickly, the states start to shake out and things start looking pretty normal.

    That's a bit simplified, but you really could do all the math by hand - just recursively going through it 435 times (actually, 385 times.) But using a spreadsheet is a much better idea.

    Of course, you can't get a perfect 692,000 people in each district - because districts can't cross over state lines.

    So, things get outta whack. In my 2007 estimate, when Oregon just barely misses, we wind up with 749,000 per district (tied with Idaho for the largest districts in the country, among states with 2 or more.) In my seven-year-trend estimate, when we get seat #434, we'd have just 650,000 per district.

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    This is s geeky. And awesome. I thought we were set. While it's nice to know the details, disappointing we're not better situated.

  • peter c (unverified)

    and don't forget all those climate refugees!

    really nice work, kari.

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    While it's nice to know the details, disappointing we're not better situated.

    Well, we've got a couple years. The fastest way to jack up a population superfast is, hmmm... low college tuition. Get on it, JC!

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    You know, Kari, they are talking about a baby boom because of the state of the economy... LOL

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    I'll lay a modest wager (beer?) that we don't make it due to our lagging economy. We've been lagging the country on unemployment for a long time, and this recession looks no different. That may dissuade in-migration.

    The only thing I see that may cut in the other direction is CA economy, which is even more in the tank than our own. Perhaps some will head north to greener pastures.

    Thoughts? I honestly don't know how sensitive in-migration is to the economic situation.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    While the current standards trend towards a possible new seat, what would be the effect if one, or both, ideas to increase the house (The 'Wyoming rule' and the inclusion of two more seats to give a rep from DC full voting rights) be for Oregon?

    In case you are wondering - the 'Wyoming rule' would be that no house district can be smaller in population than the smallest populated entity (currently Wyoming).

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    In case you are wondering - the 'Wyoming rule' would be that no house district can be smaller in population than the smallest populated entity (currently Wyoming).

    Huh? In the 2000 Census, Wyoming had 493,782 residents. The next smallest congressional districts were the two in Rhode Island at 524,159 each. I'm pretty sure that it would be mathematically unlikely (if not impossible) under the existing algorithm to generate a district that's smaller than the smallest single-state at-large district.

    Maybe you meant "no house district can be LARGER in population"? Because that would be interesting. It would mean a big increase in overall seats -- in 2000, it would have been roughly 568 seats.

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    As for the DC thing, the proposal from Rep. Davis was a temporary one - give one to Utah and one to DC - but only until the 2010 redistricting.

    Now, if they want to give DC full voting rights, that would be interesting. Either they could do that and bump it up to 436, or just include them in the regular process of apportioning the 435.

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    Interesting that under your last scenario, California would actually lose a seat.

    Basically the country is too damn big to be democratic & we should break it up into a number of smaller countries. If memory serves the original population threshold for statehood for a territory was 30,000. The Oregon is approaching the population of all of the United States in 1790 (3.9 million).

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    I almost feel they need to go ahead and make it 436 and give DC full voting rights. I know some have opposed DC getting a full vote in the U.S. House because they're worried about losing one of their members in Congress.

    The issue of giving DC full voting rights is one I've written Gordon Smith on in the past. And it's the only one I've ever received a response on out of everything I've contacted the office about.

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    Basically the country is too damn big to be democratic & we should break it up into a number of smaller countries.

    Do you mean a number of smaller states? I do believe that breaking up states requires an act of Congress - except in the case of Texas, where the Legislature can do it (per their original admission to statehood.)

  • Jack Isselmann (unverified)

    The forecast for this year is out and, at least as reported by the Portland Business Journal, Oregon's numbers are down. Here is an excerpt:

    The rate of change in state population is estimated to have decreased from 1.5 percent during 2006-2007 to 1.2 percent during 2007-2008, a steeper annual decline than last year. The continued slowing of Oregon’s economic growth appears to have decelerated, and Oregon’s total population growth rate is approaching levels seen five to seven years ago.

    See the full story here.

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    <h2>Thanks, Jack. That's the locally-produced estimate. They'll send 'em to the Census Bureau, and then we'll see what the other 50 states look like. That said, this doesn't look good for the prospects for a 6th seat.</h2>

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