America’s electorate is growing more diverse. By the next presidential election, racial minorities will exceed 40 percent of the eligible electorate in six states, according to a report released in April by a consortium of think tanks. By 2036, a dozen states will pass that mark.
At the same time, the share of states whose electorates are more than four-fifths white is predicted to drop steadily, from 23 in the next presidential election to only 11 by the year 2036.
Nationwide, white voters without a college education are expected to make up a dwindling ― though still significant ― share of the eligible electorate, dropping from 46 percent in the last presidential election to just 37 percent by the year 2036. The electorate is also aging, with voters above the age of 65 making up an increasing slice.
The report, titled “States of Change,” was produced the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Brookings Institution, PRRI and the progressive Center for American Progress.
“Demographics are not destiny,” authors Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira and William H. Frey write, “but steady and predictable changes to the electorate play an important role in defining the landscape of American elections.”
The impact these changes have at the polls in 2020 and future elections depends both on which groups actually turn out to vote and how strongly traits like race and education hold together as voting blocs.
The report lays out more than 30 possible scenarios for upcoming elections. In several, voting patterns stay the same as in past elections, with the only change coming from the overall makeup of the electorate. Generally, as the electorate becomes more diverse, that would shift the momentum increasingly toward Democrats in future years. But especially in the short term, there’s still room for variance. For instance, if the unusually high share of third-party voters in the last election “return home” to their parties in the next presidential contest, but 2016′s voting patterns are otherwise repeated by the 2020 electorate, the country could end with an Electoral College tie.
In other scenarios, racial minorities begin to turn out at the same rate as white voters ― also likely a boon for Democrats, unless minority groups begin shifting toward the GOP. In still other versions of the future, if white voters without college degrees swing further toward the GOP, the party could take a narrow popular vote victory and a comfortable Electoral College win.
Republicans can find immediate success by targeting non-college-educated whites. But going forward, as that group shrinks, the party would eventually lose in the Electoral College. If the GOP doesn’t also reach out to Hispanics and Asians, the report concludes, they “risk putting themselves into a box where they become ever more dependent on a declining white population — particularly its older segment.”
Segments of the GOP expressed those very concerns prior to President Donald Trump’s victory. Following Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, the party’s autopsy argued that Republicans needed to reach out to minorities and women to survive. In 2015, discussing a previous year’s report on demographic change, a pollster for Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that the party would need to attract a record percentage of minorities to win the presidency in 2016.