WASHINGTON — It’s not just the economy, stupid. It’s the demographics — the changing face of America.
The 2012 elections drove home trends that have been embedded in the fine print of birth and death rates, immigration statistics and census charts for years.
America is rapidly getting more diverse, and, more gradually, so is its electorate.
Nonwhites made up 28 percent of the electorate this year, compared with 20 percent in 2000. Much of that growth is coming from Hispanics.
The trend has worked to the advantage of President Barack Obama two elections in a row now and is not lost on Republicans poring over the details of Tuesday’s results.
Obama captured a commanding 80 percent of the growing ranks of nonwhite voters in 2012, just as he did in 2008. Republican Mitt Romney won 59 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Romney couldn’t win even though he dominated among white men and outperformed 2008 nominee John McCain with that group. It’s an ever-shrinking slice of the electorate and of America writ large.
White men made up 34 percent of the electorate this year, down from 46 percent in 1972.
“The new electorate is a lagging indicator of the next America,” said Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center. “We are midpassage in a century-long journey from the middle of the last century, when we were nearly a 90 percent white nation, to the middle of this coming century, when we will be a majority minority nation.”
Another trend that will be shaping the future electorate is the stronger influence of single women. They vote differently from men and from women who are married. Fifty-four percent of single women call themselves Democrats; 36 percent of married women do.
With women marrying later and divorcing more, single women made up 23 percent of voters in the 2012 election, compared with 19 percent in 2000.
The changing electorate has huge implications for public policy and politics.
Suddenly, immigration overhaul seems a lot more important, for one thing.
Ask white voters about the proper role of government, for another, and 60 percent think it should do less. Ask Hispanics the same question, and 58 percent think the government should do more, as do 73 percent of blacks, exit polls show.
Sure, the election’s biggest issue, the economy, affects everyone. But the voters deciding who should tackle it were quite different from the makeup of the 1992 “It’s the economy, stupid” race that elected Democrat Bill Clinton as president.
Look no further than the battleground states of Campaign 2012 for political ramifications flowing from the country’s changing demographics.
New Western states have emerged as the Hispanic population there grows. In Nevada, for example, white voters made up 80 percent of the electorate in 2000; now they’re at 64 percent. The share of Hispanics in the state electorate has grown to 19 percent; Obama won 70 percent of their votes.
Obama won most of the battlegrounds with a message that was more in sync than Romney’s with minorities, women and younger voters, and by carefully targeting his grassroots mobilizing efforts to reach those groups.
In North Carolina, where Romney narrowly defeated Obama, 42 percent of black voters said they had been contacted on behalf of Obama, compared with just 26 percent of whites, exit polls showed. Obama got just 31 percent of the state’s white vote, but managed to keep it competitive by claiming 96 percent of black voters and 68 percent of Hispanics.
Young voters in the state, two-thirds of whom backed Obama, also were more often the target of Obama’s campaign than Romney’s: 35 percent said they were contacted by Obama, 11 percent by Romney. Among senior citizens, two-thirds of whom voted Republican, 33 percent were contacted by Obama, 34 percent by Romney.
Howard University sociologist Roderick Harrison, former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, said Obama’s campaign strategists proved themselves to be “excellent demographers.”
“They have put together a coalition of populations that will eventually become the majority or are marching toward majority status in the population, and populations without whom it will be very difficult to win national elections and some statewide elections, particularly in states with large black and Hispanic populations,” Harrison said.
One way to see the trend is to look at the diversity of young voters. Among voters under 30 years old this year, only 58 percent are white. Among senior voters, 87 percent are white.
Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey said policymakers and politicians need to prepare for a growing “cultural generation gap.”
“Both parties are getting the message that this is a new age and a new America,” said Frey. “Finally, the politics is catching up with the demography.”
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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