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Demographic Trends Favor Democrats In Years Ahead

More immigrant, minority, and young voters and a growing liberal tilt among educated Americans mean good news for the Democrats' future.
 
 
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Current population and voting trends appear to favor Democrats for the foreseeable future, demographic experts said during a discussion at the Bipartisan Policy Center last Wednesday, but they acknowledged that projecting long-term political behaviors is difficult.

The growing minority vote (which leans heavily Democratic), the shift of white college graduates from red to blue and the shrinking white working class (which traditionally votes Republican) are good omens for the left, said Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for Real Clear Politics, said he largely agreed with Teixeira’s analysis, although he sees room for the GOP to make gains down the road.

Teixeira and Trende told Governing that however these trends play out on the federal level, the effects are likely to be felt in state legislatures and governorships. The 2010 midterm elections, in which Republicans gained 69 seats in Congress and nearly 700 seats in statehouses nationwide, are the latest example of that correlation.

"It could have a huge impact,” Trende said. “The evidence definitely suggests that state politics follow the national trends.”

Teixeira concurred, with the caveat that state politics have their own peculiarities (such as the gerrymandering of state legislative districts) that distinguish them from national elections.

“These trends have got to filter down in some ways,” he said. “This will have a big effect.”

The increasing minority vote (led largely by the budding Hispanic population) framed Teixeira’s rosy forecast, based on population data and historic exit polls, for the Democrats. Minorities’ share of the overall voting population has inclined from 15 percent in 1988 to 26 percent in 2008. That electorate has consistently voted more than 70 percent for the Democrats in the last decade, reaching a peak of 80 percent in 2008.

Long-range projections expect minority population to only grow in the coming decades. The Census Bureau predicts Hispanics will jump from 16 percent of the American population in 2010 to 30 percent in 2050. Over the same period, whites are projected to drop from 65 percent to 46 percent.

Democrats are also making gains with white college graduates. Republicans still hold a slim advantage, but that difference has shrunk from 20 percent in 1988 to 4 percent in 2008. Like minorities, white college graduates as a share of the voting population have grown by 4 percent since 1988 and are expected to continue to do so.

Meanwhile, voters from the white working class (some college or less) are slowly disappearing. Their share of the voting population has declined by 15 percent from 1988 to 2008. That block is staunchly Republican with the GOP commanding a 20-percent advantage on average.

Rounding out the good news for Democrats is the emerging millennial generation. Young adults only slightly favored Democrats in 2000 (48 percent to 46 percent), but the gap widened to 66 percent to 32 percent in 2008. That population is expected to increase from 46 million eligible voters in 2008 to 90 million in 2020. Not coincidentally, the millenial generation is also expected to be more diverse.

Looking at some key battleground states, as Teixeira did in his presentation, illustrates how these trends could play out at the state level.

In Ohio, presidential candidate then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ili., decimated challenger Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., among minority voters with an 83-16 advantage. Minorities are expected to add at least 1 percent to their share of the voting population in 2012. Obama also lost by only one point (49-50) among white college graduates and their share is expected to grow by 2 percent. White working class voters were firmly behind McCain (54-44 in his favor), but their share is projected to drop by 3 percent.

 
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