News Update

What the Census results tell us about the future US electorate

The United States is a country that is diversifying and getting older, as the population continues to shift more into metropolitan areas.
White non-Hispanic Americans now make up less than 60% of the population. About 57% if you count Puerto Rico or a little less than 58% not counting it. The latter is down from about 64% after the 2010 Census. It’s also down from the 69% recorded at the 2000 Census.
The share of the population becoming less White non-Hispanic is not just something that is happening in one state. It’s happening across most of the country. In fact, there is just one state (Maine) in which 90% or more of the population is White Non-Hispanic.
Indeed, there are now six states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico where non-Hispanic Whites make up less than 50% of the population. This includes California, the country’s most populated state, where Hispanics are now the plurality at 39%.
The shift toward White non-Hispanics making up a lower share of the population is not a surprise. What was unexpected was the rate at which it occurred. The 2019 population estimate, for example, had White Non-Hispanics making up 60% of the population.
The fact that White non-Hispanics made up an even lower share than expected defied a lot of people’s expectations. There was a belief that Hispanics would potentially come in under previous estimates (in part because of Donald Trump’s administration failed attempt to add a citizenship question), not non-White Hispanics.
Census Bureau releases population data, starting scramble to redraw congressional linesCensus Bureau releases population data, starting scramble to redraw congressional lines
Instead, Hispanics are up 20% of the country’s population including Puerto Rico and 19% not including it. Hispanics were just 13% of Americans in 2000.
In terms of how this may affect politics, the trendline and implication are clear. Winning candidates will have one of two options in the future.
They’ll either need to rely on more diverse coalitions than they have been used to in previous years, or they’ll need to run up the score with White voters. Donald Trump did the latter in 2016, but actually gained among people of color in 2020.
In other words, you might expect that this diversity trend would be helpful to Democrats, but there’s no guarantee of that.
A countervailing force that could hurt Democrats going forward is that older groups are becoming a larger share of the population.
Adults (18 or over) now make up 78% of all Americans. Children (those under the age of 18) are just 22%. Last Census, adults were 76% of Americans. In 2000, they were 74%.
The graying of this country is happening at the same time that the country’s population is growing at a slowing pace. The population grew by 7% this past decade. That’s the slowest growth since the Great Depression. It’s a marked downturn from the 13% growth two decades ago and 9% a decade ago.
We saw the last two men to become president rely on older voters to win their primaries. Winning candidates in the future would be well advised to understand that the power in the electorate will increasingly come from older voters.
These older voters and younger voters as well will be concentrated in fewer places than they used to be. Per the Census, 52% of the country’s counties have a lower population now than in 2010.
Census Bureau releases population data, starting scramble to redraw congressional linesCensus Bureau releases population data, starting scramble to redraw congressional lines
Places that had a lot of people or were gaining people continue to do so.
On the larger trendline, 312 of the nation’s 386 metropolitan areas have a larger population than they did at the beginning of the last decade. Many of the places who saw population upswings were in the diversifying South and West, as they were during the last Census.
We see that Democrats are increasingly competitive in those places, as President Joe Biden becoming the first Democrat to win Arizona and Georgia on the presidential level since the 1990s illustrates.
We may soon find that the battlegrounds fought over in our elections are not Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Rather, they’ll be the Arizonas and Georgias of the world.
Of course, there were places that perhaps don’t fit so neatly into the picture.
The Northeast’s New York City, which suffered greatly during the coronavirus pandemic over which much of the Census counting took place, continues to be the largest city in the country. At 8.8 million, it is recorded as being the most populated an American city has ever been.
New York just goes to prove that not every expectation is always met.
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