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The Changing Faces of America’s Voters

By BinyaminRose, Shimmy Blum and Rachel Bachrach

Political campaign rhetoric often tends to divide theUnited Statesinto patches of red and blue — for liberal and conservative bastions. But that patchwork is really the product of several distinct groupings, trends, and hot-button issues. A closer look at each region can yield surprising predilections and predictions for the upcoming election — and several more down the line.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

cotton fieldIn 1980, the year conservative political icon Ronald Reagan was elected president, 79% of the nation’s eligible voters were white. The national debt was slightly under $1 trillion and gasoline prices had just pierced the $1 a gallon mark.

In the 32 years since, the national landscape has changed dramatically. Debt has soared 16-fold and gasoline prices have more than quadrupled. And the number of white voters has tumbled by 16 percentage points to 63%, according toPennState’s Department of Sociology and Population Research Institute.

In theAmericaof 2012, Hispanics, followed by Asians, have made up the ground lost by whites over the decades. A record 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to thePewHispanicCenter’s analysis of 2010 Census Bureau data. That’s a rise of 4 million since the 2008 election. If current demographic trends continue, 50,000 new Hispanics will reach voting age every month for the next two decades.

But Hispanic voting clout is only one demographic factor that will weigh heavily during the upcoming election. “Go west, young man” — an axiom attributed to Horace Greeley, a 19th-century founder of the Republican Party — is no longer just a saying. The Census Bureau’s list of fastest growing metropolitan areas reveals many names that are not exactly of the household variety, such as Provo, Utah; Bend, Oregon; and, appropriately enough, Greeley, Colorado.

Reflecting that growth trend, the western and southern regions of the USwill dominate the government come 2013, with a majority of the 113th Congress’s representatives hailing from these regions. Southern states will account for 37% percent of Congress, while 23% of the nation’s elected representatives and senators will be from the West. The northeastern states, due to population losses, will control only 18% of the Congress.

What do these demographic and population shifts portend for Election Day?

“The fastest-growing states in population are mostly historically Republican,” says Dr. Joshua Comenetz, head of the Washington DC–based Population Mapping Consulting. However, voters do have a way of confounding the demographers. Comenetz says no one could have predicted how population growth, especially among minorities, would eventual turn states likeCalifornia— Ronald Reagan’s home state — into a solidly Democratic one. “Some political experts expect that evenTexasmight evolve that way, based on migration from other states plus a growing Hispanic population,” added Dr. Comenetz.

Migrants often bring along their political views when they relocate, subtly shifting the dynamics of their new home states. For example, middle age and senior citizens who head south as they age tend to be highly set in their political views, saysUniversityofFloridapolitical science professor Kenneth D. Wald. Younger newcomers and their children, however, are more likely to be influenced by the region’s historical conservative bent.

As a result of those demographic shifts, a recent Gallup Poll finds Obama and Romney fairly evenly matched in theMidwestand West. Obama enjoys a decisive advantage in the East while Romney has a comfortable lead in much of the South.

IfGallupis on the mark, then this year’s election is more likely to echo past performance than reflect the new demographics. The Democratic candidate has won the East in every election since 1988, while the Republican has prevailed in the South in most elections since 1980. While the West has leaned Democratic in recent tallies, theMidwesthas been downright fickle; backing the Democrat in 1992, 1996, and 2008, and the Republican in 1988, 2000, and 2004. 


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