A Changing America: What Role Will Minority Voters Play in 2016 and Beyond?
By the year 2040, whites will most likely no longer occupy the largest share of the American population. That is, 2040 is the year some demographers are pointing to as the year the longstanding majority will become the minority. Though that day is still decades away, it looms over the 2016 election like a slowly approaching tidal wave, its implications, for some at least, clear and discomforting.
2016 and Changing Demographics
The presidential candidates from both major parties, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have addressed America’s changing demographics in different ways. Clinton has pointedly targeted the communities that will make up the bulk of the U.S. electorate during the second half of the 21st century, the communities that carried her then-opponent Barack Obama to victory in 2008. Trump has taken a different tactic, by vilifying minority communities, or largely ignoring them, and squaring his message at working-class whites, the largest share of the electorate in 2016.
It’s no secret that the top two options on the ballot hardly stir the passions of Americans. Both have record-low favorability ratings. For some minority communities, Trump’s scathing rhetoric might push them to vote against him. For others, long memories of Clinton (and her husband, President Bill Clinton) could sap any motivation to vote for either candidate, especially in black communities.
“There is a sense of ambivalence and agitation in many parts of the black community,” Michael Fauntroy, associate professor of political science at Howard University said at a Brookings Institute event on Wednesday. “Some are still angry at Clinton over [the 2008 election], and upset at President [Bill] Clinton over welfare reform or the crime bill.”
But hesitating to vote for the Democratic nominee–since 1936, black voters have overwhelmingly voted Democratic–does not mean they’ll flip to the Republican side. According to Fauntroy, who wrote a book called “Republicans and the Black Vote,” Barry Goldwater, the divisive Republican nominee in 1964, netted 6 percent of the black vote. Trump is currently polling at 2 percent.
Fauntroy repeated a question Trump himself has asked the black community: what do you have to lose? “African Americans have quite a bit to lose depending on the outcome of this election,” Fauntroy said, ticking off the potential losses that could accompany a Trump presidency: health coverage, access to unemployment benefits, and quality education.
The reality in Hispanic communities is a bit different. Trump has aimed his ire directly at those communities, calling Mexicans “rapists” and pledging to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border. His tough rhetoric on deporting illegal immigrants has left a mark as well. “Parents are sending me emails about children coming home crying because classmates are telling them they’ll get deported when Donald Trump is president,” Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, said at the Brookings event. “The problem is that 99 percent of these kids are American born.”
Hispanic communities also don’t have the same history with the Clintons as black communities. Kumar noted how the 1990s were a largely prosperous time for Latinos. In 2012, 71 percent of hispanics voted for Obama. But since then, the crop of eligible Latino voters has grown, as those of voting age increases, and will continue to in the coming decades. At the moment, there are 27 million Latinos eligible to vote. That number is expected to grow by 17 million by 2032.
Challenges for the GOP
For Republicans, the voting trends are troubling. In 2012, at least 70 percent of African-Americans (93), Hispanics (71), and Asians (73) voted for Obama. With the 2016 electorate on track to be the most diverse ever–and future electorates are sure to be even more diverse–the GOP needs to prove it is the party for all communities–not just white ones.
“How do you make meaningful inroads in communities of color?” said Ron Christie, a special assistant to George W. Bush said at the Brookings event. A “conservative Republican,” Christie admonished Trump’s attempt at capturing the black vote by showing up at a church in Detroit: “Last time I checked, not all black folks go to church, and not all black folks show up in Detroit,” he said.
Christie pointed to John Kasich, who he worked for as a senior advisor in the nineties, as a successful example of Republican black outreach. Kasich carried 27 percent of the black vote during his successful bid for Governor of Ohio in 2010, Christie said. How? “John Kasich doesn’t talk to black people like they’re black people,” he said. “[Kasich] didn’t just focus on crime, welfare, and job training. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations that President George W. Bush famously talked about that John Kasich has done so well in.”
Instead, Christie said, Kasich focused on the issues that matter to all Americans, regardless of their race: safe schools, safe communities, and well-paying jobs. “There is no monolithic entity as the African-American community. We’re all individuals,” Christie said.
In the midst of America’s evolving racial make-up is its fastest growing community: Asian-Americans. A diverse constituency made up of dozens of nationalities, languages, and cultures, Asian-Americans have been largely ignored by both parties. “We’re not usually counted in exit polls, political parties don’t make any investment in terms of outreach to us,” Deepa Iyer, a South Asian American activist, writer, and lawyer, said at Brookings. “This needs to change because we are flexing our political muscle.”
There are currently 18 million Asian-Americans of voting age, Iyer said. Asian-Americans–with roots from the Middle East, from the Far East, from Southeast Asia, from India–are different than other minority communities in that they have not been historically tied to one party or the other. In the nineties, they leaned Republican, today, they tend to vote Democratic.
Iyer sees 2016 as a unique moment in American history, one in which the very question of what being an American means is at stake. “It is fundamentally a struggle about justice, equity, and belonging,” she said.