Add in Democrats retaking control of the House in 2019 and the push for D.C. statehood has become clamorous. It’s perhaps only slightly more likely to succeed than similar efforts over the past several decades, including an almost-there effort in 1993. But it’s impossible not to notice that one factor commonly cited as an unspoken political obstacle to the statehood effort — the city’s densely Black population — is no longer the case.
In 1957, D.C. became the first large city in the United States to be majority Black, earning it the moniker “Chocolate City.” That shift was in part a function of an expanding Black population during the baby boom. But it was more a function of Whites moving out of the city. Between 1950 and 1960, D.C. added 131,000 Black residents and lost 173,000 White ones.
(The Census Bureau has only been tracking Hispanic ethnic identity, as distinct from White and Black racial identity, for about 50 years. The data used in this article don’t segment out Whites and Blacks who are Hispanic from the overall populations.)
In 1970, the city had its peak Black density over the last century, with Blacks making up more than 7 in 10 residents. Over the next 30 years, that density declined and, like the shifts in the 1950s, that decline was a function of population loss more than an increase among non-Black residents.
About 20 years ago, that began to change. Between 2000 and 2019, the most recent year for which data are available, the number of Whites in D.C. increased by about 84 percent, while the density of the Black population declined by 5 percent. The city now has about as many White as Black residents for the first time since the late 1950s.
The irony of this shift is that, even as the population has grown less densely Black, it has also voted more heavily Democratic in presidential races. In 1964, the first election in which the district could affect the presidential race with electoral votes, D.C. preferred Lyndon B. Johnson by a 71-point margin, 48 points more Democratic than the country overall. By 2000, D.C. preferred Al Gore by 76 points. In 2020, it voted for Biden by an 87-point margin — more than the margin Barack Obama saw in 2008 both absolutely and relative to each candidate’s national margin.
There was never a time in recent history when D.C. would have voted for a Republican member of Senate. But the tiny likelihood of that has only declined even as the city has grown less densely Black.
This is in keeping with broad national trends, of course. Urban areas such as D.C. have gotten more deeply blue in recent decades in part because they’ve become destinations for college-educated Whites. It’s certainly the case that the city’s demographics at one point contributed to apathy about considering it for statehood. But it seems clear that the central consideration for both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill when considering statehood for D.C. is currently the likelihood of adding two Democratic senators to a wobbly balance of power in that chamber.
Republicans have taken positions against statehood in recent weeks, using a number of arguments meant to highlight the District’s unusual nature. Some of those arguments center on how D.C. is relatively small. That’s true, but it remains more populous than either Vermont or Wyoming, states which represent 4 percent of the Senate. It’s also true that D.C.’s population has declined substantially since 1950. In that year, it was larger than 15 states.
But that has turned around. D.C.’s population increased much faster than Wyoming’s from 2010 to 2019 as Vermont’s declined. Most of that increase was an influx of new White residents.
D.C. is no longer Chocolate City. But it would almost certainly be a Democratic state.