Not only the depth but also the breadth of the minority expansion turned heads. From 2000 through 2010, the minority share of the population increased in every state. Four states are now majority minority: Hawaii, New Mexico, California, and Texas. In eight other states, minorities make up from 40 to 50 percent of the population. In 2000, minorities were 40 percent or more of the population in just four states.
Diversity is sprouting even in places long considered alabaster: In the new census, minorities represent more than 20 percent of the population in Utah, nearly 18 percent in Indiana, 17 percent in Minnesota, 16 percent in Idaho, and 15 percent in South Dakota. Minority populations in Iowa and North Dakota poked into double digits. “This is a universal story,” says Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a Democratic analysis and advocacy group. “Even though there are some places where this is happening with greater intensity, it is happening universally all over the country.”
“The new minorities—Hispanics and Asians—are driving where we’re headed.” —Demographer William Frey
Hispanics are the driving engine of this growth. On the national level, Latinos now represent one in six Americans, or nearly 50.5 million in all. That’s up from one in eight, about 35.3 million, in 2000. The Hispanic share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, with dramatic gains recorded not only in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas but also in Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Latinos accounted for a majority of the population growth in 18 states, at least 40 percent of the growth in seven more, and at least 30 percent in five others. In sum, Hispanics fueled about a third or more of the population growth in 30 states. “The big umbrella [story] in the census is the Hispanic dispersion across the country,” Frey says. “It has become even more dramatic this decade than the last decade.”
NEAR- AND LONG-TERM CHANGES
The increasingly nonwhite tilt of the youth population has profound implications for American politics into the distant horizon. The young, increasingly minority population is likely to view public investment in schools, health care, and infrastructure as critical to its economic prospects, while the predominantly white senior population might be increasingly reluctant to fund such services through taxes. The trends could portend a lasting structural conflict. (See “The Gray and the Brown: The Generational Mismatch,” NJ, 7/24/10, p.14.)
In the near term, though, the more relevant change is the growing minority presence in the over-18 population. The change in that group was not quite as rapid as among young people, but it was substantial: The minority share of that adult population rose from 28 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2010. That’s an annual rate of increase of one-half a percentage point; if this trend continues, minorities will represent 34 percent of American adults by the 2012 election.
Minorities’ share of the vote, however, has always lagged their share of the population. That’s partly because of differentials in registration and turnout, but also because a substantial number of Hispanics are either in the U.S. illegally or have not gone through the process to become citizens. Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonpartisan group that supports Hispanic political participation, estimates that 13 million Hispanics who are eligible to register to vote have not done so, a number equal to about 40 percent of the adult Hispanic population.
That large untapped pool helps explain why Hispanics, who are now 14 percent of the adult population, cast only 9 percent of the votes in the last presidential election. The proportion of Asians in the electorate also substantially trails their presence in the population: They represent almost 5 percent of adults, but cast only 2 percent of votes in 2008, according to exit polls. African-Americans actually punched above their weight in that election, casting 13 percent of ballots while representing just 11.6 percent of all adults, the new census results show.
Even though minorities haven’t maximized their potential impact in the electorate, the sheer weight of the underlying population change has been irresistible. Since 1992, exit polls have found that the percentage of nonwhite voters in presidential elections has more than doubled, from 12 percent when Bill Clinton first won the White House to 26 percent in 2008. Obama got four-fifths of that nonwhite vote, which helps explain how he won the largest share of the popular vote of any Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson while winning only 43 percent of whites’ votes.
If the minority share of the vote increases in 2012 by the same rate it has grown in presidential elections since 1992, it will rise to about 28 percent nationally. By itself, that could substantially alter the political playing field from 2010, when the minority vote share sagged to just 22 percent. It means that if Obama can maintain, or even come close to, the four-fifths share of minority votes that he won in 2008, he could win a majority of the national popular vote with even less than the 43 percent of whites he attracted last time.