“The atheist Muslims are coming to get us! The country is dying!” cries the right, and it is easy to recognize the fear behind the words. Or, in more restrained cases, simply a discomfort, a feeling that things they’ve taken for granted – including a certain definition of American – are changing. And you know what? They’re partly right. They are wrong to be afraid, but they are right that change has come yet again to these shores (although a rather minor one compared to some past).
The final census numbers were released last week, and the country grew by about 10%, adding more than 27 million people to the official count. And many have noted that the number of people identifying as Hispanic or Latino surpassed 50 million. But it is the change over the past ten years that is even more telling: while those who identify as non-Hispanic whites alone increased by 2.3 million, the number of minorities increased by more than ten times that number – by 25 million. Not only that, but this disparity is increasing.
Above, we see the growth of selected census racial and ethnic categories (which, of course, are quite diverse themselves) from 2000-2010; little growth of non-Hispanic whites occurred. In fact, it was the smallest increase in the non-Hispanic white population since 1820. Here’s recent trends in growth:
This has resulted in a country that is much more diverse (as measured by these categories). Here’s a comparison of 2010 and those idealized bygone days of 1940:
Of course, this implied uniformity of the prewar US is a little misleading, as the category ‘whites’ includes Southern and Eastern Europeans and Irish, who upon immigrating to this country were welcomed with much of the same belligerent rhetoric we hear from the right today.
Part of the fear of change is the fear of a loss of power and privilege, and a realization that the modern Republican party is stuck. Republicans can continue to demonize the Otherness of minorities of all stripes, and ensure those minorities will not vote for them, or they can evolve into something new, and demoralize their own rabid base. (Note to Democrats: minorities who won’t vote for Republicans won’t automatically vote for Democrats, so do your jobs!)
Especially threatening to the right is that minority growth is spread across the country, not just concentrated in the Southwest or the Eastern megalopolis. Only five states had greater non-Hispanic white population increases than minority population increases: Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and (barely) South Carolina. Here’s statewide population growth, using the racial categories from the first graph (in other words, all racial categories include only those who do not identify as Hispanic or Latino).
The white population decreased (white color on the maps) across a large swath of the Midwest and east coast, meaning total populations in all these states would have decreased had it not been for minority growth.
Hispanic and Latino growth was through the roof, with populations more than doubling in most Southern states and growing by more than 50% in the rest as well as the Midwest, New England, Mountain West, and Pacific Northwest. Asian growth was relatively uniform across the country. Growth of the African-American population was highest in those states where the population was lowest, namely the upper Midwest and New England.
Of course, if a population of a minority in a state increases from 5 to 50, that’s huge in terms of growth but doesn’t mean much politically speaking. So, here’s a map showing percent of each state that is minority (those who aren't non-Hispanic white).
There’s only four states left that are less than 10% minority: West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Among all states, the median change in percent minority was an increase of 4.2 percentage points (see complete list here). At first glance this might not sound like much, but it could make a big difference in elections.
Of course, the census counts everybody. Not all residents are citizens or become citizens. And not all citizens register to vote. And not all registered voters bother voting. See 2010. However, historically, non-whites have voted increasingly for Democrats, for President at least. We certainly can’t count on this trend to continue, but there is not yet any indication that it has stopped.
Looking into the Future
Will these population growth trends continue?
Short answer: It looks likely. Without new laws halting immigration or outbreak of war in North America, neither of which are on the horizon, legal and illegal immigration seems likely to continue. Even the Great Recession has not put too much of a damper on things. The population of unauthorized immigrants decreased by about 10%, or 1 million, from 2007 to 2009, but the flow of legal immigrants (about a million per year) actually increased during that time. Meanwhile, people continue to pass away (79% non-Hispanic white in 2009), and babies continue to be born (54% non-Hispanic white in 2009).
Will minorities continue to vote for Democrats?
Judging from the past, yes. I think Democrats are not currently all that great at listening to their minority voters, but nor have they ever been. So current voting patterns will likely continue. While nothing is certain, most trends in voting behavior take a while to change direction. (We're still seeing change that appears to be related to the Republican Southern Strategy after all these years!) Meanwhile, the trend for minorities is still towards more Democratic voting behaviors. Rapid change is certainly possible, though, such as among the Arab-speaking community in Dearborn, Michigan, which did not seem to appreciate George W. Bush nearly so much in 2004 as it did in 2000. Another issue is that when people in a given demographic live in ethnically homogeneous communities, they may vote more uniformly (see here, here, here, here, and here for examples). So Hispanic and Latino voters in, say, Wyoming, might be more likely to vote Republican than those in Los Angeles.
But many Latinos are Catholic, so they'll eventually change over and vote Republican, like white Catholics, right?
In 2008, white Catholics more or less split their vote evenly - they did not strongly support McCain. Meanwhile, if we look at various white ethnic groups with likely historic ties to Catholicism, we see a strong variation in support. Selected communities with Polish, French, and Portuguese roots strongly supported Obama; those with Belgian and Irish roots split their vote; and Cajun and Italian-American communities strongly supported McCain. Obviously, Catholicism does not determine voting behavior. Likewise, we may eventually see a vast divergence in the political behavior of the many Latino cultural groups at some point in the future if Republicans stop demonizing them. (Right now all groups except Cubans are strongly Democratic.)
But aren't Hispanics and other minorities socially conservative? Will they change the Democratic party if they don't bolt from it altogether?
Preliminary data from the DailyKos/SEIU/PPP poll show only about a quarter of Hispanics oppose gay marriage and civil unions, and of those more than half are Republicans already. So there is potentially a little room for Republicans to peel off some socially conservative voters, at least on this issue, but not much. Meanwhile about a third of African-Americans oppose gay marriage and civil unions, almost all of whom are Democrats, but the Republican party doesn't seem to have had much success with African-Americans over the past 50 years, despite their best efforts putting forth such notables as Michael Steele and Clarence Thomas.
Note: If you are interested in seeing county-level maps, please let me know by tipping the comment below titled County Data.