Map of congressional & legislative districts overlaid on population changes. Credit: Susan Bigelow / CTNewsJunkie
The U.S. Census Bureau released a new round of redistricting population figures this past week that included numbers at the town level. There’s a lot of interesting data in there about how Connecticut is growing and changing, and where that growth is and isn’t taking place. But as the reapportionment of congressional and General Assembly districts draws near, what will this mean for the next decade of politics in our state?
Let’s start with the congressional districts.
If you’ve been following this column a while, you’ll know that Connecticut has some … oddly shaped congressional districts. Specifically, the 1st and 5th Districts, represented by Democrats John Larson and Jahana Hayes respectively, are a weird jumble of towns that seem like they have very little to do with one another. Torrington and Colebrook are included in the otherwise Metro Hartford 1st, while New Britain and Meriden are in the western Connecticut-focused 5th. There’s no good reason for the districts to be shaped this way; they’re like this because of the politics surrounding Connecticut losing a seat 20 years ago. That means there’s lots of potential for change, but if we take the 2010 redistricting as a guide, the mapmakers will take the easy way out and simply adjust boundaries to follow the population.
That means districts will get smaller or larger depending on where the census shows the state is growing or shrinking in population. We don’t have numbers for current congressional districts yet, so all we can do here is guess based on what we know about the towns.
The 1st District may not change much: Population losses in rural areas, Hartford, and Torrington will largely be offset by some gains in Hartford’s suburbs, so any adjustments will be based on what happens in the other districts.
The New Haven-focused 3rd District actually seems to have grown, thanks to population increases in New Haven and its suburbs, so that district will get smaller.
Eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District seems to have lost quite a lot of population, including over 2,500 residents in the district’s largest town, Enfield. There are a couple of ways the district could grow geographically to increase its population to the required threshold; taking a larger section of Glastonbury or absorbing Middletown from the 3rd might be the avenues of least resistance.
The most interesting adjustments should be in the 5th District and the fast-growing 4th District. Most of Connecticut’s population increases happened in Fairfield County: Bridgeport, Stamford, and Danbury accounted for over 22,000 new residents by themselves. The 4th District clearly grew the most, so we’ll see that district shed several towns. The new 4th will probably have fewer inland towns. As for the 5th, it’s possible that some of the Farmington Valley or even New Britain could wind up in the 1st, while the district as a whole moves west and south.
Here’s my vague guess on how it could shake out: the 4th gets smaller and more compact, and will be focused on the coast. The 1st gains Simsbury and New Britain and loses Torrington and Bristol as the 5th shifts west and south to absorb some of the towns that were previously in the 4th. The 2nd gains Middletown and Guilford and the rest of Glastonbury, while the 3rd loses Middletown and its slice of Waterbury but gains Shelton (and maybe Trumbull). The 5th loses New Britain and Simsbury but gains Bristol and several towns that were previously in the 4th.
Does that create an opening for Republicans in the 5th? Well, maybe. This 5th District is a lot friendlier to them, but it’s still going to be very hard for any Republican to win any seat in Connecticut going forward.
As for the General Assembly, these population shifts are not good news for an already beleaguered Republican Party. Rural seats where they’ve tended to do well, especially in interior western Connecticut, have lost population, while several of Connecticut’s largest cities have gained population (with the exception of Hartford). The Stamford and Bridgeport delegations are set to grow, as are suburban delegations that are increasingly Democratic.
Fairfield County, once a Republican stronghold, has trended hard toward Democrats over the past two decades. That region is going to have more seats and more clout in the next General Assembly.
The decline in the white population is another big problem for Republicans. Almost all of Connecticut’s growth came from the Hispanic and Black populations, while the white population contracted in just about every town in the state.
The bottom line is that Connecticut is more diverse and more urban than it was a decade ago, and both parties are going to have to adapt and change if they want to keep voters on their side.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.