As I have explained over the past several weeks, demographics have reshaped the country’s politics. The electorate in 2020 will be the most diverse in U.S. history. The electorate in 2024 will be even more so.
These changes are symptoms of a larger change in the social fabric. The America of 2030 will not look like the America of 1950 or even 2016. We are becoming more diverse, more multicultural. In many ways, our current politics are a debate about whether we should embrace these changes or view them as a threat.
So, just how different will the U.S. electorate look in 10 or 20 years? And how will these demographic changes affect party politics?
A Multicultural America
The population is going to look a lot different in 10 years. The difference will be even more significant in 20. In the future, no one group will make up a majority of the population.
The era of America being a majority White non-Hispanic country is coming to a close.
The writing is on the wall. America’s children look much different than its adult population. Only half of Americans under 18 are White non-Hispanic. A full 50 percent of all children are either Latino, African-American, Asian or biracial.
Compare this to the overall population. Sixty percent of the population is White non-Hispanic. This number is gradually shrinking because of differences in birth rate and immigration from Latin America and Asia. According to the U.S. Census, immigration will be the primary driver of population growth beginning in 2030.
The Census projects that non-Hispanic Whites will no longer be a majority of the population in 2045. Looking at these statistics, it is easy to see why immigration is such a divisive political issue.
The Politics of and the Backlash Against a Multicultural America
Barack Obama’s 2008 election shook parts of White America to its core. Many assumed that a conservative White Christian political coalition would always be dominant. Obama’s victory shattered this illusion.
He showed that other types of winning coalitions are possible—diverse, multiracial and not dependent on winning a majority of Whites. Obama gave parts of White America a taste of what it is like to not be the dominant group. They did not like it. The backlash was intense.
What scares parts of White America even more is that the demographic changes that made Obama’s election possible are not slowing down. White America is facing an identity crisis. Whites are declining as a proportion of the population. White millennials (those born in the 1980s and early 1990s) and Gen Zers (the generation born in the late 1990s and early 2000s), are both secular and liberal. The political dominance of White middle-aged Christians is fading.
It is already very difficult to win nationwide, and in many states, on the strength of the White vote alone. It will become even harder as time goes by.
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- Why Abrams, Gillum and O’Rourke Lost in 2018
Not all Whites are threatened by these changes, but the ones who are threatened are looking to retrench. “Make America Great Again” is an appeal to a time of unchallenged White dominance, something demographic changes have eroded.
Donald Trump makes more sense in this context. Whites’ fears of losing status gave rise to Trump and the larger White identity movement that bore him. Other countries are experiencing similar reactions to changing demographics.
We are at a dangerous juncture. The White Christian conservative coalition might come to the point where they realize they cannot win anywhere close to a majority of votes and start to look for ways to subvert the democratic process.
They have already begun to flirt with this strategy. Republican-controlled state Legislatures in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin have all attempted to use lame duck sessions to strip power from newly elected Democratic governors. If you can win fair and square, just change the rules.
This threat extends to voting rights as well. Republican-controlled state legislatures have been actively trying to suppress minority votes. They have enacted voter ID laws, rolled back same-day registration, early voting and closed voting precincts. One federal appeals court judge said North Carolina’s efforts to restrict voting targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
National level Republicans are also toying with similar types of ideas. Trump has been active in circulating bogus theories about how millions of non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. He has gone so far as to form a (now discredited) commission to investigate.
Trump’s claim is baloney, of course, but the claim that “illegals are voting, and we need to stop them” will serve as the pretense for some type of federal effort to roll back voting rights.
The Republican Party will need to become more diverse to win. Hopefully, they come to this conclusion themselves and try to broaden their appeal as opposed to looking for ways to shut out diverse voices.
My fear is that many Republican-elected officials will seek to gerrymander, disenfranchise and strip power from Democrat-controlled institutions rather than face the possibility of playing by the rules and losing. Groups rarely give up power willingly.
What can be done?
This is a battle that must be fought on two fronts. First, the Democrats must look to capture as many elected offices as possible. This means not just focusing on presidential elections. The Democrats must take state and local races seriously, too. The 2018 midterms were a good step, but there is much more to be done. The Republicans’ ability to disenfranchise and gerrymander is significantly reduced when they are in the minority.
But competing and winning elections is not enough. The Democrats will not win everywhere, and even when they do there might still be malfeasance. They must be ready to fight these laws in court.
Here, organizations such as the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, along with the state and national Democratic Party organizations, are critical. Democratic leaders and voters must be prepared when voting rights come under further attack.
One thing that average citizens can do is join and contribute to these organizations. Showing up to vote is hugely important but protecting the integrity of the democratic process is a bigger and more important fight. These organizations are on the front lines of voting-rights battles. It is vitally important that they have the resources to fight efforts to roll back voting rights in the courts.
The Politics of the Future
The rise of Donald Trump is one of the profound challenges of our time. Trump might come and go, but he is the product of more enduring forces. We should not expect the conditions that produced Trump to disappear as soon as he leaves the scene.
Demographic changes will make it harder for candidates like Trump to win in the future. However, there is no guarantee. Demographic changes will only tip the scales if everyone who is eligible to vote actually can exercise this right. We must be ready to protect it.
Josh Zingher is an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaZingher.