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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Demographic Change Gives Electorate a Blue Tint

Sam Roberts has a New York Times report on a new Pew Research Center analysis of November election voting data. The Pew Research Center analysis adds some interesting detail to what was known about the historic election. First, the African American vote and turnout:

The longstanding gap between blacks and whites in voter participation evaporated in the presidential election last year…Black, Hispanic and Asian voters made up nearly a quarter of the electorate, setting a record….for the first time, black women turned out at a higher rate than any other racial, ethnic and gender group.
Despite widespread predictions of record voter turnout last November, the overall rate was virtually the same as in 2004. But the composition of the electorate changed. The turnout among eligible whites declined slightly, by 1.1 percent, but rose by 4.9 percent among blacks…In 2004, the gap between white and black turnout rates was nearly seven percentage points. It was less than one percentage point four years later.

But it isn’t just the Black vote that turned the election;

…The number of eligible Hispanic voters has soared by more than 21 percent since 2004, a reflection of population gains and growing numbers of Hispanics who are citizens. Their share of eligible voters increased to 9.5 percent, from 8.2 percent four years earlier. In 2008, for the first time, the share of white non-Hispanic eligible voters fell below 75 percent.

And the current electorate looks like this:

The Pew analysis found that whites constituted 76.3 percent of the record 131 million Americans who voted last November. Blacks accounted for 12.1 percent, Hispanic voters for 7.4 percent and Asians for 2.5 percent. Together, black, Hispanic and Asian voters made up 22 percent of the voters, compared with about 12 percent in 1988.

All of which is close in keeping with the arguments advanced by TDS co-editor Ruy Teixeira and John Judis in their book, “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” and in a more recent book edited by Teixeira, “Red, Blue, and Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics“. Some may argue that the ’08 election was an exception because of the uniqueness of the Obama phenomenon, leading to a sort of ‘chicken and egg’ argument. But even after conceding his effect on increasing turnout among people of color, Obama didn’t create the demographic trends that made his election possible.
In a recent interview with Teixeira posted at the Center for American Progress web pages, he had more to say about demographic change that benefits Democrats:

There are a variety of ways in which America has changed demographically and geographically in the last 20 years that have sent things in a more progressive direction. One of the biggest changes is the decline of the white working class, which is the most conservative element of the population, really. According to exit poll data, the percent of white working class voters is down 15 points in the last 20 years, whereas minority voters who lean pretty heavily progressive are up 11 points, and white collar graduates who have been shifting progressive rapidly in the last couple of decades, they’re up four points. So that’s a big change. Other changes that are important are the professionals, which is a growing occupational group, have shifted pretty heavily toward progressives. Single women, another growing group that has shifted toward progressives, and of course there’s this burgeoning millennial generation, which is adding about 4 million people to the eligible voter pool every year. These are people born after 1978. They’re very heavily progressive, as we saw in the last election. They voted 66 to 32 for Barack Obama. So those are just some of the changes that, in a demographic sense, are making the country much more progressive.

Teixeira explains that it’s not all about demographics, because much of the electorate is to a great extent tiring of the GOP’s insistence that the ‘free market’ is the panacea for all America’s problems. Teixeira cites a growing belief among the electorate that government can help address some social and economic problems. But he holds that demographic trends will continue to favor Democrats:

if we look at these demographic trends and how they’re unfolding, you don’t see very much that actually strengthens the conservatives’ case or the conservatives’ prospects. Pretty much all the demographic trends are going to continue moving in progressive directions for the next 20 years. Just as one obvious example, we’re going to become an increasingly diverse society over time. By the year 2023, the majority of children will be minorities, people under eighteen. By the year 2042, we’ll be a majority minority nation… We’re going to see continuing increases in the proportion of single women; we’re going to see even the millennial generation, as I mentioned earlier, adding about 4 million eligible voters to the voter pool every year until the year 2018. So I think if you put these things together…the potential is there for a durable and pretty strong progressive majority looking pretty far out into the future.

If President Obama and the Democratic majority of congress can secure needed reforms that produce significant progress for Americans of all races — admittedly a big “if” — the demographic trends that are in motion should insure growing majorities of American voters supporting Democratic candidates in the years ahead.

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