election racial demographics

Much of the media coverage in the wake of President Obama’s reelection on Tuesday has focused on the United States’ changing racial demographics, their impact on the election, and their implications for the future. These results, however, shouldn’t surprise people who have been observing and writing about these demographic shifts for years.

Much of the media attention is directed at Latinos. Pundits and news outlets seem suddenly to have realized that Latinos are now a large and growing portion of the population and that the large percentage of Latinos who voted for Obama played a significant role in his reelection. I’ve seen more Latino guests on various news and politics shows in the last few days than the last few years previously. My cynical sarcastic side wonders if perhaps the shows’ producers have suddenly realized that most Latinos in the United States speak English as well as Spanish and other languages.

A smaller number observed that Asian Americans also favored Obama by a large percentage; larger in fact than the percentage of Latinos. Both results shouldn’t be terribly surprising since the Asian and Latino populations of the United States are overwhelmingly either immigrants or children of immigrants – I fall in both categories – and this year’s Republican Party took a particularly drastic and negative position on immigration. The two groups are also the fastest growing racial minority groups and have been since the overhaul of the United States’ immigration policies in the mid-1960s. The difference between attention to Latinos, as opposed to Asians, in current media coverage is most likely explained by the fact that the Latino population is larger and growing in significant numbers in many of the so-called political “battleground” states – although the Asian population in Virginia helped to “swing” it into contention and may contribute to the same dynamic in Arizona, Nevada, and Texas.

Charles Blow wrote a column Friday in the New York Times offering observations from diving deeper and more systematically into the data from exit polls. One was that Asian American voters now outnumber African American voters in all three Pacific Coast states, Washington and Oregon as well as California, a trend that looks to continue.

His notion to consider the implications of exit poll results is especially refreshing compared to less empirically-based columnists. Charles Krauthammer thinks the “way forward” for the GOP is a simple change in border and immigration policy, but he also seems to think there are four border states. His perspective on “the border” is overdetermined by the United States’ southern border with Mexico to extent that he doesn’t include the ten states with land borders with Canada – several others share borders over the waters of the Great Lakes. More significantly, actually meaningful consideration of immigration policy begins with the realization that modern transportation, specifically aviation, allows border crossings in so many ways and to so many different places that the act of crossing a territorial border holds significance only if you choose to emphasize it. When I first entered the United States, my mother, sister, and I arrived on a flight that landed in Salt Lake City where we transferred to another taking us to Louisiana where we were reunited with my father.

One point that seems to have been largely overlooked in this post-election analysis is that the results of this shift in American racial demographics could have been even larger. Reporters who observed that the percentage of Latino voters increased to 10% and that the percentage of white voters declined to 72% did not notice that as significant as those percentages were, Latinos were 17% of the U.S. population in 2011 while the whites comprised 65% (according to the Pew Foundation). In other words, Latino voters turned out in lower percentages, and whites in higher percentages, than their actual proportion of the population. If voter turn out had more closely resembled those population percentages, with the same distribution of votes going to each candidate from each group, the numbers would have skewed even more toward President Obama.