Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic Party: Does a census change the party? Yes and no

Nuts & Bolts—Inside the Democratic Party: Does a census change the party? Yes and no

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns or explain issues that impact our party.

Looking at issues beyond campaigns, we have to start looking at how the Democratic Party itself is impacted by shifts in population and the locations of that population in the United States. When a census occurs, political parties in state houses across the United States get a chance to redefine the lines that determine who you are voting for in the next election. You may have lived in state House District 22 for the past 10 years, but now—well, now you are in House District 23. U.S. House district? You may have been in District 2, and are now in District 5. Populations move, and the way in which they are divided can forever shape campaigns. Does a census change the party itself? Well, that answer is something we are going to look at this week.


The way your state party and your local party run will be shaped in part by the changes in boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. When the districts are created, county parties and precinct organizational structures will have to update their lists of candidates or elected officials that they might be supporting. If you were previously represented by a Democratic elected official and suddenly find yourself in a Republican district because the lines have changed, your task changes from holding an incumbent to ousting one. If you lived in a district represented by a Republican that is now held by a Democratic one, you have hold that incumbent.

There are other cases that are far more difficult. Republican state houses work to combine elected Democratic officials into the same district. For example, a district may be solidly Democratic, and a nearby district is fairly Democratic. In order to get the result the Republicans want, they can put both Democratic elected officials inside of the same district, and free up the newly formed seat so that it is “open” with no incumbent, forcing two Democratic elected officials to fight it out for a seat they had previously held. This is a tough call for any elected official and for people living in those districts. 

State legislatures can also change divides in local races. If counties have population divisions for county commissioners, or positions like state boards of education, these boundary lines can also be redrawn. While we don’t often think about these positions the same way we do other elected offices, statewide boards of education can have significant impact on the lives of students. How the maps for their election are drawn can also change who represents us.

A U.S. census can make incredible changes in the who and where we are working for within our party.


Some things never change about the Democratic Party—or they should not change. These are our base values. Democratic Party candidates hold certain values that allow us to explain what we represent to voters more easily. That can make things difficult for some candidates who are running in deeply conservative districts, but there is no benefit in changing who we are in order to fit the new district you are running in. If you were a Democratic elected official who was elected in a district that was more Democratic before and now your race is more difficult in Republican precincts, some advice I’ve heard over the years is to be less progressive, or to drift more to the center in hopes of picking up those Republican voters.


In a choice between a real Republican on the ballot and a Democratic elected who picks up some Republican issues, Republican voters will vote Republican. Meanwhile, Democratic voters and independent voters will not be swayed by this by your campaign’s change of stance, and you just can’t run away from your past votes. More importantly, you shouldn’t want to do so. You want to be able to persuade unaffiliated and undecided voters far more than reach out to Republican voters you have little chance to sway in the upcoming election.

A census changes several things, but no, it does not change, in any way, what it means to be part of the Democratic Party—with one exception.

The U.S. census does change the Democratic party directly …

Every 10 years, the U.S. census reminds us of the importance of some states in our electoral strategy, but it also gives us insight on the growing needs of a more diverse nation. Diversity is one of the great strengths of America as a whole and once every decade, the Democratic Party is provided another look at the America of the future. That future is diverse and beautiful, and one we as a party are prepared to support.

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