Mississippi’s stagnant and shifting population is going to create a problem for legislators who have gotten used to carving up the state in a way that ensures Republican dominance but pacifies Black opposition.
Both of their political bases have either lost population since 2010 or become less concentrated. Whites, who lean heavily Republican, are down more than 3 percentage points, or almost 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the Black population is close to what it was 10 years ago, but it has shifted away from being so heavily concentrated in the Delta and in the state’s capital city of Jackson, both of which have suffered significant population losses. Instead Black numbers are picking up in the same areas in which the state has experienced the greatest population growth, such as DeSoto County.
That means, when it comes to drawing new election boundaries, it will be harder for legislative incumbents to strike the deal they have in the past, which packed Black voters into some voting districts while leaving the rest of the districts predominantly white. Although that tradeoff ensured the election of Black candidates in Congress and the state Legislature, it also enabled Republicans to dominate Mississippi’s delegation in Washington and both chambers at the state Capitol.
The population changes could theoretically push Mississippi back toward being more of a two-party state by making more districts competitive than they have been for a while. Rather than concentrating the Black vote, which tends to vote heavily Democratic, in a limited number of districts, the latest census numbers could force Mississippi’s election mapmakers to spread that vote out in a way that increases Democratic influence without jeopardizing the number of Black lawmakers.
That’s because, unlike 30 years ago, a district does not have to have a supermajority Black population in order to elect a Black candidate. A recent example was the 2019 election in DeSoto County of a Black legislator in a seat where the minority population was only around 50%. An increasing number of Black elected officials are recognizing this healthy shift away from strictly race-based voting and are now speaking out against the gerrymandering in which they previously collaborated.
The wild card in future elections could be how the non-Black minority population votes. According to an article this week by Mississippi Today, the percentage of Mississippians who identify themselves as Hispanic, Asian or multiracial now stands at more than 7%, nearly doubling over the past decade.
Neither party appears to have those voters locked up. In close elections, they could make the difference. Watch for lawmakers, as they draw the voting boundaries, to be very conscious of where they place those up-for-grabs constituencies.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth