By Niall Stanage
May 16, 2016
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are likely to battle for the White House this fall over the most diverse electorate in the history of the United States.
Every indicator is pointing toward an election in which Hispanics, in particular, are more heavily represented than ever. Demographic trends also point to the white vote-share shrinking further.
As recently as the 2000 election, won by Republican George W. Bush, 81 percent of voters were white, 10 percent black and just seven percent Hispanic.
By 2012, when President Obama won his second term, the white vote-share was down 9 points, to 72 percent. Blacks cast 13 percent of the total ballots and Hispanics 10 percent.
Some experts believe the white vote-share could drop below 70 percent in November.
“The America electorate as a whole is increasingly diverse, and I think you will see increases not only in the numbers of Hispanic and black voters, but among Asian voters as well. And you’ll see the lowest share of the white Anglo vote,” said Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi, a consulting firm that specializes in work with the Hispanic community.
Such numbers could create hurdles for Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee.
To win, he would have to turn out working-class white voters in huge numbers, and either strive to improve his numbers with Hispanics or hope that they do not come to the polls.
Republican strategist Dan Judy, whose firm worked for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential campaign, described the changing electorate as “a huge challenge” for the GOP.
“If the whole country looked like Alabama, Donald Trump would be fine,” Judy said. “But that is not the case.”
Demographics reveal a country that is becoming less and less white.
Data from the Pew Research Center published in February found that, since 2012, about 12 times as many adult white citizens as adult Hispanic citizens have died, despite the overall white adult population only being about six times as big as the Hispanic population.
Non-whites also represent a higher proportion of new voters who have come of age since 2012. Non-whites accounted for 43 percent of the eligible voters who turned 18 between 2012 and 2016, despite representing only about 30 percent of the overall electorate.
Pew counts a net increase of about 7.5 million eligible voters who are members of ethnic minorities since 2012. Among whites, that number is just 3.2 million.
Of course, those voters actually need to go to the polls for the 2016 electorate to grow more diverse.
Melisa Diaz, a consultant with a long history of working on Hispanic issues for Democrats, notes that demographics do not control destiny when it comes to politics. Democrats must get their voters to turn out.
“If the election were tomorrow, we would be fine,” she said. “But we need to keep people motivated until Election Day, six months from now. It is a challenge.”
There have been reports of an uptick in applications for citizenship from some states.
While it is possible this has no direct political cause, some liberals have suggested it could reveal a rush by minorities to make sure they can cast votes against Trump. Others suggest that the increase could be spurred by fears about hostile legislative changes should the presumptive GOP nominee be elected president.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” said Diaz. “It could be people who want to have a voice [in the election] but it could also be people who fear uncertainty. If they have the ability to become citizens, they want to take advantage of that opportunity now.”
Republicans have worried for months that Trump’s tough rhetoric toward Hispanics in particular would harm him in November.
After a 2012 election in which Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, the Republican National Committee conducted an autopsy of its loss — which it referred to as the “most comprehensive post-election review” ever undertaken — and concluded it needed to do more to reach Hispanics if Republicans were to win the White House.
“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too,” the report's authors stated. “We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”
Instead, the GOP will be led in the fall by a candidate whose biggest campaign promise is to build a wall on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
in a Latino Decisions poll released late last month, Trump was viewed unfavorably by 87 percent of Hispanics and favorably by just 9 percent.
Judy, who is deeply critical of Trump’s tone toward minorities, also noted that the growth in the Hispanic population has been “astronomical” and lamented that those numbers were “an untapped resource” for the GOP unless the party can find a more effective way to connect.
Artemio Muniz, chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, acknowledged that the GOP was “in for a tough time” if the current numbers hold. But he asserted that Trump could still show his deal-making abilities by shifting to a less hardline position on immigration.
“He has got to show that he is a leader. He can’t demagogue the issue.”
It’s also important to remember that demographic changes aren’t affecting all states equally.
Some of the states seeing the most expansive Hispanic population growth are safe for either Republicans (Texas) or Democrats (California).
And the partial reverse of the Great Migration that has seen large numbers of African-Americans move from the northeast to southern states such as Georgia may not change the electoral map for several more cycles.
At the same time, changing demographics have clearly helped Democrats in states such as Colorado and Virginia.
And the effects of even small shifts can be politically profound.
An extensive study last summer from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report looked at the likely make-up of the electorate in 2016 compared to 2012.
Wasserman then assumed the 2016 nominees would receive the same levels of support as President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney from five groups: college-educated whites, non-college-educated whites, blacks, Hispanics and “Asians/others.”
Under that model, Democrats would increase their vote in all 15 of the potential battleground states where Wasserman focused.
That suggests Trump really needs to increase the white voter turnout to win.
“We’ve got more of those [minority] voters showing up, projected for 2016, and that means you have got to do substantially better among white voters than Romney,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress and a demographics expert. “Among white, non-college-educated voters, he has got to really run up the score.”
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