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,” says 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.
You can hear it in the voice of Alicia Perez, a 31-year-old immigration attorney who voted last week in Houston.
“I trust the government to take care of us,” she said. “I don’t trust the Republican Party to take care of people.”
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 says 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,” says Frey. “Finally, the politics is catching up with the demography.”
Just as Republicans need to do a better job of attracting Hispanics, says Frey, Democrats need to do more to reach out to whites.
The face of Congress is changing more slowly than the electorate or the population, but changing it is.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was happy to highlight the news that for the first time in history, more than half the members of her caucus next year will be women, black, Hispanic or Asian. She said it “reflects the great diversity and strength of our nation.”
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, whose caucus is far more white and male, said Republicans need to learn to “speak to all Americans — you know, not just to people who look like us and act like us.”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of the GOP’s most prominent black women, said the party needs to understand that “the changing demographics in the country really necessitate an even bigger tent for the Republican Party.”
“Clearly we are losing important segments of that electorate and what we have to do is to appeal to those people not as identity groups but understanding that if you can get the identity issue out of the way, then you can appeal on the broader issues that all Americans share a concern for,” she said.
All sides know the demographic trends are sure to become more pronounced in the future.
In the past year, minority babies outnumbered white newborns for the first time in U.S. history. By midcentury, Hispanics, blacks, Asians and multiracial people combined will become the majority of the U.S.
Since 2000, the Hispanic and Asian populations have grown by more than 40 percent, fueled by increased immigration of younger people as well as more births.
Currently, Hispanics are the largest minority group and make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 12 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Asians. Together minorities now make up more than 36 percent of the population.
Hispanics will make up roughly 30 percent of the U.S. by midcentury, while the African-American share is expected to remain unchanged at 12 percent. Asian-Americans will grow to roughly 8 percent of the U.S.
“The minorities will vote,” said demographer Frey. “The question is will their vote be split more across the two parties than it was this time?”
For both Republicans and Democrats, he said, the 2012 election is a wake-up call that will echo through the decades.
Face of America is changing — demographic shift that means elections will look different, too
It’s not just the economy, stupid. It’s the demographics — the changing face of America.
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Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
“The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.
Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
“Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
“We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”
“The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
“There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
“We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
“We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.
Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.
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