Is Indiana Really on Track to Lose a Seat in Congress?


The worst time for sports and the worst time for Indiana state government coincide. We’re entering the Dog Days of Summer, where we’re slogging through the longest part of baseball season and the best things happening at the Statehouse are brutal study committees.

That’s why, a couple weeks ago, a column from Christina Hale in the weekly Howey Politics Indiana newsletter piqued my interest. Quick aside: have you ever noticed the only things people ever describe as “piqued” is their interest or their curiosity? No one says “my hunger was piqued” or “my sciatica was piqued”.

In the piece, titled “Indiana on track to lose another CD seat”, the former state rep and LG candidate looked into her political crystal ball and wondered how the state would deal with the loss of a congressional seat during the next reapportionment. She wrote:

The top 20 growth states are likely to grow as much as 5 to 13 percent. Indiana will grow less than 3 percent if we luck into a little bit more wind at our back. Yes, we have gained, but not enough compared (to) other growing states to ensure that we might prevent another loss in congressional representation.

It’s an intriguing possibility. Indiana had 11 seats on Congress until 1982, and yet another contraction could set up a primary showdown somewhere in the state. But is it likely? Before we answer the question, let’s review the process of Congressional reapportionment as quickly as possible before everyone enters a REM cycle.

Back in the day, the Founding Fathers decided that members of the U.S. House of Representatives ought to represent the same number of people (at the time, about 30,000). And as the country kept getting bigger, they kept adding more reps, until 1912 when they said “enough is enough” and capped the number of Congressfolks at 435. In order to ensure each rep continues to represent about the same number of people, we periodically reapportion the seats.

Every 10 years in America, Caesar Augustus decrees that a census should be taken. So we fill out some forms, send pregnant virgins to a manger, and voila(!) we know how many people live where.

The least interesting photo I’ve ever posted on this site.

The Census Bureau then runs each state’s population through a formula to determine how many seats it gets in the House (preview the formula by clicking on the picture over here—>).

To test my Excel skills, I built a formula mimicking the Census Bureau’s Equal Proportions Method, and entered population estimates from the Wheldon Cooper Center for the census years 2020, 2030, and 2040.

The result?

Indiana is safe in 2020. We got the 420th seat in Congress, meaning there would have to be shifts in 15 other states before we would be affected. Only a severe shift in population trends would move us from 9 to 8 districts in 2022 (when the 2020 census data takes effect). In fact, based on the population projections I used, Indiana could have totally flat population between 2010 and 2020 and we’d still have 9 seats.

2030 is a little more perilous. According to those projections, Indiana still has 9 seats, but we are literally the 435th seat. Meaning if California or New York (the next two states in line) were to do slightly better or if we were to do slightly worse, they would take our last seat in the House.

If there are no major shifts in population patterns by 2040, our 9th seat is certainly gone.

The result of this formula is an unexpectedly fun spreadsheet where states are like college basketball teams in March Madness, and we are comparing each one’s RPI and non-conference strength of schedule to see who gets an extra Electoral College vote. If you want to have some nerdy fun, you can download my reapportionment spreadsheet here and waste an afternoon.

To be sure, I checked my work against some people much smarter than me. Real Clear Politics‘ projection does not list Indiana as a state “on the bubble”. Neither does Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, despite expected losses in other states across the Midwest.

In short, it’s fun to imagine what would happen if Indiana were to lose an elector in a few years, but try not to pique your face off.

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