Post-2008 Demographic Changes

One of the great truisms (because it’s true!) about contemporary politics is that the Republican Party is trying to have as great an impact on public policy as possible before demographic trends make its old-white-male electoral base a permanent minority–at which time, of course, GOP pols may discover a new interest in darker and younger voters, it they haven’t alienated them for decades to come.

But are these demographic trends happening fast enough to have an impact on this year’s elections? At TNR today, the co-author of that highly prescient 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, Ruy Teixeira, compares data from the Census/BLS Current Population Surveys for November of 2008 and May of 2012 and concludes they could have an immediate impact:

Minorities, 80 percent of whom supported Obama in 2008, have increased their share of eligible voters across the time period by around 3 percentage points. (About three-fifths of this is from Hispanics, most of the rest from Asians and those of “other race.”) White working class voters, whom Obama lost by 18 points, have decreased their share of eligible voters by about the same amount. And white college-educated voters, whom Obama lost by only 4 points, were roughly stable (a very slight 2 percent uptick in their share of eligibles.)

Looking at the “battleground states,” Teixeira finds more variation:

Looking first at the Mountain West, the two key states here are Nevada and Colorado… Nevada is the nation’s leader in demographic change: Between 2008 and 2012, the minority share of eligible voters increased by an astonishing 9 points, more than 2 points a year. Minorities are now almost 40 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters. At the same time, the share of white non-college eligibles has declined by over 5 points in the state and white college eligibles by 3 points.

Colorado has also experienced a high level of demographic change in the last four years, if not quite in Nevada’s league. The share of minority eligible voters has grown by over three points—almost entirely from Hispanics—and there has been a roughly equal decline in the share of white working class eligibles, by far Obama’s worst group in the state.

Turning to the New South swing states of North Carolina and Florida, there have also been sizable demographic shifts over the last four years. In North Carolina, the minority share of eligible voters has gone up over 4 points, with simultaneous declines of around 2 points in both white college and white non-college eligibles. In Florida, the increase in minority share has also been about 4 points, while white working class eligibles have declined 3 points and white college eligibles by 1 point.

Beyond these states, Teixeira finds, the changes have been less significant, with Wisconsin registering slightly less change than NC and FL; followed by Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia with less than WI; and then IA and OH showing virtually no change. New Hampshire, interestingly enough, registered no increase in the eligible minority population, but did show a significant shift within the white electorate from non-college to college-educated voters.

Stereotypes die hard, and journalists are often surprised at the emergence or disappearance of this or that state from the electoral “battleground.” But the trends Teixeira examines may help explain why Obama could quite possibly win North Carolina while losing Iowa, which not much of anyone would have imagined immediately after 2008.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.