Monday, April 04, 2011

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Dramatic Diversification of America: Census 2010

Up until this point I've been reporting on the release of Census data in a piecemeal way.  In fact, it's actually quite overwhelming to try and keep up with each new batch of numbers.  The directions that one could take their analysis is unending.  Nonetheless, a new story by Ronald Brownstein over at National Journal does an excellent job of putting into context just what the Census is now telling us about America.

The take away...the pace of diversification in the U.S. over the past decade has been staggering.  This will have consequences not just for how we view ourselves, but for our politics as well.  Consider some of the following:
  • The minority share of the population increased in every state between 2000 and 2010
  • The percentage of non-Hispanic whites is 5.4% less than it was in 2000
  • Minorities now make up 46.5% of the under 18 population (up from 39.1% in 2000)
  • Four states are now majority minority--Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas.  In eight other states, minorities comprise between 40 and 50% of the population
This growth has been overwhelmingly driven by Hispanics.  As Brownsein writes:

On the national level, Latinos now represent one in six Americans, or nearly 50.5 million in all.  That's up from one in eight, about 35.3 million, in 2000.   The Hispanic share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, with dramatic gains recorded not only in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas but also in Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island.  Latinos accounted for a majority of the population growth in 18 states, at least 40 percent of the growth in seven more, and at least 30 percent in five others.  In sum, Hispanics fueled about a third or more of the population growth in 30 states.

So what does this mean electorally???  The premise of this site from its beginning was that demography matters...a lot.  While I never want to discount other factors that shape elections--candidate quality, campaign organization, rhetorical skill, underlying fundamentals like the state of the economy, money, etc.--the driving set of variables for me has always been those that describe who the voters are.  Furthermore, we know that so much of our demographic profile is wrapped up in a historical and cultural narrative as well--look no further than our history with race in this country.  Thus, if you tell me who the voters are and where they are I'm pretty confident that I can tell you what they're going to do.

Which gets us to the second part of Brownstein's article.  Given what we know about how the minority vote has broken down over recent cycles, these numbers are very good news for the Democrats not only in the short term but especially long term.  Republican success in 2010 was built upon 1) decreased turnout among minority and new voters and 2) overwhelming support from whites.  In 2008, Barack Obama received 43% of the white vote yet won the largest share of the popular vote of any Democrat since LBJ.  National Journal ran a series of scenarios based on a further erosion of white support for Obama in 2012 and found, nonetheless, little reason to bet against him.  Consider:

Obama, for instance, won Florida last time with 42 percent of the white vote; under this scenario, if he maintains his minority support he could win the Sunshine State with just under 40 percent of the white vote.  With equal minority support in Nevada, the president could win with only 35 percent of the white vote, down from the 45 percent he garnered in 2008.  Likewise, under these conditions, Obama could take Virginia with just 33.5 percent of whites, well down from the 39 percent he captured last time.  In New Jersey, his winning number amon whites would fall to just over 41 percent (compaerd with the 52 percent he won in 2008).  In Pennsylvania, under these circumstances, 41% of white votes would be enough to put the state in Obama's column, down from the 48% he won in 2008.

All of this takes place even though minority turnout, especially among Hispanics, lags behind that of whites (African American turnout was up substantially in 2008).  If, going forward, mobilization and turnout among Latinos were to approach that seen among African Americans, the situation for Republicans would get even more dire.  If I were going into politics today as a young progressive and wanted to find a niche for myself that guaranteed I'd have meaningful work for the rest of my career, I'd focus on Latino mobilization and turnout. 

This all assumes, of course, that minorities' allegiances stay firmly in the Democratic camp.  For the party's sake, one would hope that Republicans would figure out a strategy to cope with these numbers.  Watching the current crop of GOP presidential candidates as well as those on Capitol Hill, it's clear that they haven't figured this out yet.  Pointing to Marco Rubio as a reason to believe you can win Hispanics is not a strategy.  Party allegiances and loyalties are formed over time and require an understanding of why voters evaluate the parties the way they do.  For Latino and African American voters, the Democrats have had this understanding--and a willingness to seek it--for much longer.  These new numbers seem to suggest that they are in position to reap the benefits for years to come.