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Social Explorer Tool Demonstrates the Potential Impact of the Census Citizenship Question

TUESDAY, APR 23, 2019

The Trump administration seeks to add a new question to the 2020 Census asking the citizenship of all people in the country. The current U.S. Census asks 10 demographic questions, such as age, race, gender and who lives in the household. Responses to the new question could radically change redistricting in America. The fate of the proposed citizenship question is up to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case of Department of Commerce v. New York on April 23rd with a ruling expected by June. 

Social Explorer developed an interactive tool to explore the potential impact of such a question. The online tool uses population data from the 2010 Census along with citizenship data from the 2013-2017 American Community Survey to demonstrate the way districts would need to be redrawn for Congress and State Legislatures. Currently, all congressional districts are drawn based upon total population and are equal in size, but efforts are underway to redefine who counts when it comes to representation. For example, legislators in Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Nebraska would like to use either the number of citizens or the number of eligible voters (called Citizens of Voting Age) instead of total population when drawing legislative districts.

Switch from congressional districts to state districts by clicking on the top right corner of the map and selecting a new geography level–State Legislative Districts Upper (SLDU) or State Legislative Districts Lower (SLDL). 

Social Explorer’s co-founder and president Andrew Beveridge analyzed the data to see how changing from counting total population to counting only citizens would impact each district in America. He found that the following congressional districts would need to shrink in size the most: Nevada 3; Texas 8, 22, 26, and 31; and California 42. Those that would need to increase in size the most would be: Texas 29 and 33; Florida 25 and 27; California 34 and 40; Illinois 4; and New York 14. For example, Texas' 29th Congressional District (eastern Houston) would have to grow to take in nearly 120,000 new citizens, more than a fifth of the citizens currently in the district. Explore the interactive tool to see more of the potential impact on each district.

For more on the Supreme Court case, check out the New York Times article "How the Supreme Court’s Decision on the Census Could Alter American Politics" by Michael Wines, which also features data from Social Explorer and more analysis from Andrew Beveridge.


On March 28, 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross declared that the 2020 Census would include a question asking the citizenship of every person living in the United States. Previously, citizenship appeared on the Census survey only once (in 1950), and has never been included in a way that collected citizenship information about every person in the United States. (For more on census history and context, please read the Amicus Brief of Historians and Social Scientists, which Beveridge is a part of as well.)

Several states, counties, cities and various advocacy and legal groups sued in three district courts to block the addition of the question. They allege, among their arguments, that the questions would harm the enumeration by making those who are foreign born or who have non-citizens in their household reluctant to participate in the decennial census. Furthermore, since the question was added at the last minute without typical field testing, all three courts blocked the addition of the question. The Supreme Court heard arguments from two of those cases (New York and California) on April 23rd. (The third district court just ruled on April 5th to block the question, on similar grounds as found by the first two courts.)

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