Will changing demographics affect the 2018 midterms?

By William H. Frey

Demographics in the United States are changing rapidly, as growth explodes among minority populations and slows within the white population. Brookings Senior Fellow William Frey, author of “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,” explains how the demographic transformation of the United States affects voting patterns and could impact the results of the 2018 midterm elections.

What you need to know:

  • The United States is undergoing profound demographic changes. There is huge growth in racial minority populations, especially new minorities—Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races. This growth has exploded over the last 10 to 15 years.
  • Counter to that is very slow growth, and soon decline, in the white population, which is aging very rapidly. The only part of the white population that is growing is the over-age 65 population, as Baby Boomers move into that age group.
  • These changes are affecting voting in the United States. Most of the minority populations, especially African-Americans, have voted strongly Democratic for the last 10 years or so. In fact, the black population has voted Democratic going all the way back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • In the last 10 or 15 years, we have also seen relatively strong Democratic support among Hispanics.
  • Asians voted Republican in the 1990s but that changed after 2000 and has continued in all the presidential and other elections since then.
  • The majority of the white population has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.
  • States that are becoming more racially diverse, or having fewer whites proportionately and more blacks, Hispanics, and Asians proportionately, tend to vote more Democratic, which has been the case in the last three presidential elections.
  • “White anxiety” refers to white Americans’ concern over the changing demography of the United States—the fact that we are becoming more racially diverse. This is especially prevalent among older whites who think of America as a different kind of place racially than it is becoming with the growth of immigrants and racial minorities.
  • In 2016 Republican candidate Donald Trump’s message, which included many negative feelings toward racial minorities, fanned the flames of white anxiety and influenced the voting patterns of older whites.
  • Millennials—a younger and more diverse generation—have taken a larger part in elections, and could influence results if they turn out for the midterm elections.
  • This “cultural generation gap”—older whites vs. younger minorities—will play out and eventually younger minorities will have a much bigger say in elections going forward.
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