As the United States becomes more diverse, Republicans are supposedly going to suffer. Nothing encapsulated this theory more than President Obama’s 2008 election, powered by nonwhite voters — mainly Hispanics, black people and Asians.
In politics, “demographics are destiny,” as the saying goes.
But that’s not right, as I have long argued: Demographics are not destiny, and the 2014 Census Bureau voting supplement, released today, backs up this point well.1
The electorate in 2014 was just as diverse as it was in 2008, even as the election results were so starkly different.
- Whites made up 76.3 percent of voters each year;
- Black voters were 12 percent in 2014 vs. 12.3 percent in 2008;
- Hispanics were 7.4 percent in 2014 vs. 7.3 percent in 2008;
- And Asians were 2.8 percent in 2014 vs. 2.6 percent in 2008.
All of these changes are within 0.3 percentage points of the earlier figures, and yet Republicans won the national House vote by 5.6 percentage points in 2014 and lost the national presidential vote by 7.3 percentage points in 2008.
So what the heck happened? If the exit polls are to be believed (and they aren’t perfect), it was not that any one group became more Republican in 2014. Instead, they all did. Republicans won among whites by 22 percentage points instead of 12 percentage points. Republicans lost black voters by 79 percentage points versus 91 percentage points. They trailed among Hispanics by 26 percentage points rather than 36 percentage points. They won Asian voters by 1 percentage point instead of losing them by 27 points.2
You might be tempted to explain the shift by saying younger voters stayed home in 2014 compared with 2008. Indeed, 18- to 29-year-olds were 17 percent of voters in 2008 compared with just 10 percent in 2014, according to the census. But even if we adjusted the 2014 results to match the 2008 age turnout, Republicans still would have won nationally by 3.1 percentage points. That’s partially because 18- to 29-year-old voters who turned out in 2014 voted Republican by 23 percentage points more than 18- to 29-year-olds in 2008.3
This doesn’t mean that turnout didn’t matter in the midterms, as my old friend David Shor pointed out on Twitter. For example, white Democrats were less likely to vote than white Republicans. You can see this in the very white state of Iowa, where registered Democrats were 37 percent of the vote in 2008 and 33 percent in 2014. The percentage of registered Democrats in Iowa who voted in 2014 versus 2008 dropped by 22 percentage points compared with 12 percentage points for Republicans.
This phenomenon is different from demographic change, however. Just because the country becomes more diverse doesn’t mean it will become more Democratic. It’s as important to watch the voting patterns within each demographic group — and how they change — as it is to watch the demographic makeup of the electorate.