COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The exodus from St. Louis city to the suburbs could mean changes for the area’s congressional seats when it comes time for redistricting.
An Associated Press analysis shows Missouri’s 1st Congressional District was among the top 10 nationally in declining population based on U.S. Census Bureau data tracking changes between 2010 and 2020. The reported population declined from 748,616 in 2010 to 714,746.
Missouri’s 3rd District, which includes some of St. Louis’ outer suburbs, saw the biggest growth in the state, from 748,615 people in 2010 to 804,485 in 2020.
The population changes confirm a steady departure of residents from the city of St. Louis, which is heavily Democratic, to its outer suburbs.
Missouri State University sociology and demography expert Kyler Sherman-Wilkins said millennials who finally have the money to buy homes are leaving urban areas and driving suburban growth.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist David Kimball said population changes in the St. Louis area could mean U.S. Rep. Cori Bush’s St. Louis seat is redrawn to include more people.
And he said Republicans could redraw Rep. Ann Wagner’s 2nd District seat, which also saw a population bump, to make it more difficult for Democratic challengers to pull off an upset.
“That coincides with the Republican aims to make the 2nd District a safer Republican district,” Kimball said.
Missouri’s 2nd District covers mostly middle class and affluent parts of the St. Louis suburbs. The 2nd District hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1990, but Wagner faced strong challenges in 2018 and 2020.
Every 10 years, the 435 seats in the U.S. House are redistributed among the states based on population. While Missouri’s population growth of 2.8% over the last decade was less than the national figure of 7.4%, it was good enough for the state not to lose a congressional seat.
In Missouri, the GOP-led Legislature is responsible for drawing congressional districts.
The rules the state will use to redraw the state legislative districts were revamped just last year when voters repealed parts of a first-of-its-kind 2018 initiative for drawing fair and competitive legislative districts. Voters opted instead to return to a method that will let commissions composed of Democratic and Republican loyalists redraw state legislative districts.
The Republican-backed measure also deleted a requirement to base state legislative districts on the total population tallied by the census. It instead references a Supreme Court standard of “one person, one vote,” opening up the possibility that redistricting commissioners could use only the citizen population.
Kimball said redistricting could also mean changes to state legislative seats in northern and southeastern Missouri, which saw the biggest drops in reported population over the past decade.
Missouri’s 8th District, which includes the Bootheel region, was the only other congressional district that saw a population decline other than the 1st District.
“Politically Missouri is still a red state, so I don’t know that this is going to change that much,” Kimball said. “But I think in redistricting, at least in the state Legislature, there will be a couple fewer strictly rural districts and a couple additional districts drawn within metro areas of state.”