The Decline of the American White Voter

April 29, 2021

“The order is rapidly fadin’ And the first one now will later be the last For the times they are a-changin’ “ Bob Dylan (1964)

Bob Dylan’s inspirational song preceded the social changes that would transform the America in the 1960’s. It’s a simple elegy of his idea that America was about to enter a new era of possibilities for all people.

I begin this post with this simple lyric to suggest that America is about to begin again with a new political and social order. The key element to a country’s future is its demographics. More specifically, the change in a country’s composition future.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, 80% of the nation was white, 11.5% of residents were Black, 6.5% were Hispanic and Asian Americans were 1.8% of the American population.

In 2019, the white population has declined by 20% to today’s 60%. The Hispanic population increased to 18.5% and Asian-Americans to 6%. The Black population, however, increased to 12.5%, a 6% increase since 1980.

The chart below is a graphic representation of White population changes since 1980, prepared by the Brookings Institute. The decline of White voters is largely due to the larger age structure of the White population. The long-term decline of the White population is caused by their increased aging without the influx of new White immigrants. In other words, they are dying out.

Although, White voters have declined in all 50 states, the eastern and western states have been most affected by these demographic changes. The white population in Florida is still a majority but that will likely change in the 2020 Census figures.

 Percent of Total-  2019    
StateWhite*Black*Native American*Asian American*Latino or Hispanic
New Mexico36.
District of Columbia37.544.40.24.411.3
New Jersey54.612.90.19.820.9
New York55.314.50.38.919.3
North Carolina62.621.
South Carolina63.726.40.41.86
Rhode Island71.
South Datkota81.
North Dakota83.
New Hampshire89.81.50.234
West Virginia923.

The most important change is the ethnic diversity is the country’s younger population. In 2019, more than half the country’s 16 and under population now identifies as an ethnic minority, primarily Hispanic and Black. And some demographers believe this trend is now accelerating.

Ostensibly, the increasing populations of minorities and the declining white population should benefit the Democratic Party. An example of this is Georgia. Joe Biden would never have carried this state if the white population was the same as it was in 1980.

Nationwide, Biden won the overwhelming majority of Black voters (90% to 8%), and the Asian-American vote 66% to 31% according to exit poll data.

But Florida, with a similar population as Georgia, Trump carried the sunshine-state by 3.3%. The difference was the Hispanic vote, which in Florida is dominated by the Cuban American population, who historically support Republicans since the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

In 2020, this group broke 56-41 for Trump. Some have used this statistic to suggest that Hispanic voters are not monolithic. And that is true to a point, but as we look at the nationwide Hispanic vote it significantly benefited Joe Biden.

Among all Hispanic voters nationwide, Biden won the Hispanic vote with 66%. In Arizona, a state with a large Hispanic population, Biden won this group with 63% of the vote. In Texas, Trump lost the statewide Hispanic vote by double digits.

The biggest warning sign for Republicans is the the exponential growth of the younger Hispanic and Black populations. Obviously, these demographic groups are still several years from having a political impact, but eventually they will.

The effort by some Republican state legislatures to decrease the access and ease of voting in the name of decreasing fraud, is seen by many minority groups as an attempt to reduce their influence. In the end, I believe these changes will have little impact on near term elections.

But in the long run, the impression that these Republican efforts were meant to suppress the minority vote could turnoff nascent ethnic and minority populations toward the Republican Party. In my opinion, this was a short-term gain with the potential of alienating a rising younger and growing ethnic vote. Eventually, the white vote alone will not carry the day for the GOP.

As some have pointed out, it is true that Republicans carried white voters in most states by larger margins than Democrats carried minority and ethnic groups, thus offsetting the Democrats advantage among these populations. This fact is largely due to the advantage White voters have in voting participation, as described in Table 3 below.


2020 ASIAN

The table shows the current registration and voting participation in the 2020 election cycle. White voters out performed all ethnic voters by an average of 9.8%.

But this will change as the political interest and partisan engagement increases among minorities, and the decline of White voters increases. In other words, political participation will increase as ethnic voters age.

Finally, there is the independent effects of US immigration on election choice. Are immigrants, skilled and unskilled, more likely to vote Republican or Democratic when they become citizens?

In a new analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research (THE POLITICAL IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION:EVIDENCE FROM THE UNITED STATES, April 2018), researchers looked at the partisan vote of skilled and unskilled immigrants once they became citizens. Contrary to their expectations, more unskilled immigrants voted Republican than skilled immigrants. This unexpected outcome is most likely a reflection the two groups education.

When the full 2020 census is finally released, we will learn if this trend of a decreasing white population and an increasing minority population continues.

If it does, the Republican Party’s dependence on Donald Trump voters, who are mainly white and blue collar will have have a limited impact as the rise of ethnic and immigrant voters overtake the white population over time.

The short-term prospects for the Republican Party are relatively good, however, especially in the next mid-term elections. But ignoring the rising tide of minority voters will likely lead to a decline in Republican political success in the future.

This process is called Party realignment, where a party’s voters are replaced by different demographic groups or after important historic events.

This occurred in the United States during the Great Depression when the Country politically went from Republican dominance in the 1920’s to a Democratic control in the 1930’s.

“Demographics are Destiny” Auguste Comte, French Sociologist

Sociologists have known this rule since the 19th century and it remains true today. Party’s that ignore this fact will eventually fade into political history, as the Whig Party did in the mid nineteenth century.

As Charles Darwin made clear: all species, must adapt to new environments or perish. In my opinion, this concept applies to political parties as well. Appealing to a group of voters that is slowly declining and either ignoring or attacking groups that are growing, is not a recipe for long-term success.

Bob Dylan is still right, ‘the times they are a-changin’

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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