- William Yen ’23
Since 1790, the United States government has held a decennial census, a constitutionally mandated procedure. It determines which type of people live where, and in what quantities. While it is used for a variety of purposes, such as health and retirement planning and the distribution of federal and state money, arguably, its most significant purpose is for political representation. That is, in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. In this article, we will use the electoral college maps of various presidential elections to track the political representation of 4 consequential states: California, Texas, Florida, and New York.
The 1852 Electoral College map, shown above, was from the first election in which California, Texas, and Florida had all been incorporated into the Union. Looking at the top right of the map, it is undoubtedly clear that New York was the United States’ political powerhouse, boasting 35 electoral votes*. In comparison, California, which was made a state just two years prior in 1850, was only apportioned 4 votes. Texas and Florida, which were made states in 1845, only were given 4 and 3 votes, respectively. Furthermore, as depicted in the table below, these votes were fairly proportional to the states’ populations—New York accounted for over 13% of the population of the United States!
*By “votes,” we are referring to the number of congressional districts
Population vs Electoral College Votes
From 1860 to 1940, all four states saw increases in their number of votes, and therefore, political representation.
Following the 1940 Census, New York peaked in its political representation. This state received the most electoral votes it would ever have to date: 47. After this decade, New York would gradually decrease in its votes and representation due to its slower-than-average population growth. Meanwhile, California, Texas, and Florida, all continued to increase in their votes throughout the next decades. This decade marks the beginning of the diffusion of political representation from the northeast to the west (California) & south (Texas and Florida), caused by westward and southern population growth.
As a result of the 2010 Census, California was apportioned 55 electoral votes, the most it would ever have to date. New York continued to decrease in political representation, while Texas and Florida once again increased in votes. Also, it is important to note that despite 2020 being a census year, the map from the 2010 census is the model that will be in use for the 2020 election.
From the 2020 Census, all 4 states are expected to change in their number of votes.
California: California is projected to lose 1 vote, bringing its total down to 54. This will be the first time in history that California has ever lost a vote.
Texas: Texas is predicted to gain 3 votes, more than any other state this decade. This will bring its vote total to 41 electoral votes. This increase, along with Florida’s, signifies a growing trend of southern expansion.
Florida and New York: After 170 years, Florida will finally surpass New York in the number of electoral votes it has. Florida is expected to gain 2 votes while New York, once again, will lose 1. This will result in Florida having 31 votes and New York having 28.
By comparing and contrasting the Electoral College maps throughout the history of the United States, we can see how population shifts affect the political representation of states. New York’s representation increased in the first half of American history, hitting an all-time high of 47 votes before decreasing back to 28. California, Florida, and Texas have all grown very much since being granted statehood. Since the founding of the United States, demographics have played an essential role in American politics, and more is yet to come.
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Want to learn more? Check out the sources I used below:
Image sources (All images were taken from Creative Commons or Wikimedia Commons)
- “USA Flag” by Ian Britton is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
- All maps obtained from an edition of the National Atlas of the United States. Like almost all works of the U.S. federal government, works from the National Atlas are in the public domain in the United States.
Social Science: Finding the human in humanities