The Changing U.S. Electorate

In the two months since the 2012 presidential election, a fuller picture has emerged of the changing face of the American electorate. However, it is essential that this diversity be more than simply cosmetic, but rather is reflected in public policies that are similarly more broadbased and inclusive. Here are a few key points to consider about the 2012 electorate: 

African Americans eligible to vote turned out in impressively large numbers across the country, continuing a 16-year upward trend which began after the enactment of the landmark National Voter Registration Act of 1993. This resulted in what is expected to be a slightly higher black turnout rate in 2012 than non-Hispanic Whites for the first time in U.S. history due primarily to mobilizing eligible Black voters to the polls. 

Latino voters rose to a historic high of 10% of the electorate nationally due mainly to population growth but still account for nearly 4% less than their proportion in the general population. However, the full legislative impact of both Black & Latino voter’s political preferences remain diluted by the patchwork of state-level felon disenfranchisement rules and the practice of prison-based gerrymandering, whereby minority prison inmates are counted as residents of rural communities in that ways that unfairly skew federal, state, and county level redistricting.

The Asian Americans/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, which represents complex & diverse intra-ethnic backgrounds, perspectives, and increasingly geographic locations, also showed growing electoral power in 2012. Unfortunately, this group’s historically high national electoral impact of 2.8%, while critical in key states (Virginia, Nevada, Florida), remains far below the estimated 5.8% they represent in the general population. These Americans continue to encounter language barriers at the polls, & received minimal contact by candidates, parties, or other groups.

Overall, communities of color, whether African Americans in Ohio, Puerto Ricans in Florida, or Indian Americans in Virginia, across the country proved increasingly crucial to swing state electoral success in 2012. The rise in voter turnout in 2012 is especially impressive given the efforts at voter suppression over the last two years that specifically targeted African Americans, Latinos, and young people. 

Working women & young voters across all races & ethnicities were also key groups in the 2012 election. Women voters hit a high mark of 53% of the electorate nationally while young voters between 18-29 years old, which were more racially and ethnically diverse than their older counterparts, increased to 19% representing more than double their share of the electorate since 2004.

The electorate’s composition in 2012, while utterly surprising to many television pundits and DC prognosticators, was simply illustrative of long emerging demographic shifts. These shifts have the potential to not only create an electorate that finally "looks like America", but also changes actual representation so that we have a government that thinks like America -- with public policy better reflecting the preferences of communities of color, women, & young voters.

Such a change will happen faster to the extent that election reform can tear down structural hurdles to political participation by these Americans. Let's get to work putting pressure on our federal, state, and local officeholders such that meaningful reform emerges as a top priority in President Obama's second term. As the President himself said about our dysfunctional voting system on election night, "we need to fix that."

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